NorthEast United had always been Chennaiyin's bogey team in the Indian Super League. On Thursday, Marco Materazzi's men were finally able to win against the Highlanders, which not only gave them a crucial three points but also proved to be an excellent psychological boost. Chennaiyin will now travel to Pune to take on the team languishing near the bottom of the table.
NorthEast tried their level best in the second half, in front of 33,000 passionate fans – the record attendance of this season – but their efforts proved to be futile.
The home team were once again wasteful in front of goal. They sprang to life after Chennaiyin got the lead in the 49th minute and wanted to secure at least a point. However, it was all too little too late. Emiliano Alfaro missed a couple of really good chances; Romaric came close on a few occasions and the other NorthEast players also scuffed a few goalscoring opportunities.
Amid all this, Nicolas Velez, who has been a key player for the Guwahati team so far, suffered a knock in the 39th minute. Velez has linked up very well with Alfaro and has been regularly been involved in attack. His injury, therefore, is certainly a cause for concern, and NorthEast would hope it is not serious.
NorthEast have taken 10 points from the available 18 so far, which seems just about satisfactory. However, considering their six matches have come in a space of 20 days, their performance so far has been commendable.
They are still on top of the table, but a win would have taken them a step closer to the semi-final berth.
Coach Nelo Vingada was "very happy with the performances of the players" and with the side's "fighting attitude". He certainly should be. After going behind, the hosts showed incredible character and purpose to try and make a comeback. It didn't work out on the night. However, be it Velez' injury, or the NorthEast players' fatigue, Vinganda's assessment of Chennaiyin being "luckier" than his side is certainly erroneous. Was he belittling the efforts of the adversary? Chennaiyin's goal wasn't lucky, and the three points they earned, far from it.
Chennaiyin played almost a classic game of football. They got a good goal, and then they sat back and defended resolutely. With two crucial blocks and tackles apiece, captain Bernard Mendy put on a splendid performance in the second half for the visitors.
Materazzi's decision of keeping marquee player John Arne Riise on the bench also paid off. The traditional left-back had a poor outing in his previous match in the centre-back position. The Italian World Cup winner cannot be blamed for putting Riise in the centre-back role, as Riise performed admirably for Delhi Dynamos in the same position last season and was one of the league's top defenders. However, he hasn't played very well for his new side in the same role.
The former Liverpool and Roma player can also not come and steal Jerry Lalrinzuala's place at left-back as the 18-year-old Indian full-back was once again exceptional on the night, with two interceptions, a block and four tackles, which included a goal-saving one.
Twenty-eight-year-old Brazilian Eli Sabia partnered Mendy in defence, and the two had a good understanding at the back. Goalkeeper Karanjit Singh had a good outing, and the defence in front of him stood tall and collected, which made things much easier for him.
After six matches in the first three weeks, the Highlanders would enjoy a break of almost a week, with their next match coming on the 28 October. The ISL, with its compact format, doesn't allow managers to tinker and experiment with tactics and personnel.
Vinganda has the opportunity to shake things up in this small break, and the loss might be a blessing in diguise for the side, as it will lead to some modification, and prevent the players and the manager from getting complacent. The players can also get some rest before the "Eastern Derby" takes place at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium next Friday, with Atletico de Kolkata arriving. Three points on the night will certainly diminish the blow of this defeat.
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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 18:07:14 IST