Semifinals a realistic target for underdogs NorthEast Utd, says tough-tackling Robin Gurung

Robin Gurung is an integral part of NorthEast United's dogged defence — in three matches, the Highlanders have conceded three goals and are third in the table with four points — a win against Kerala Blasters, a loss against Atletico de Kolkata and a draw against FC Goa.

Pulasta Dhar October 24, 2014 16:21:50 IST
Semifinals a realistic target for underdogs NorthEast Utd, says tough-tackling Robin Gurung

Robin Gurung is an integral part of NorthEast United's dogged defence — in three matches, the Highlanders have conceded three goals and are third in the table with four points — a win against Kerala Blasters, a loss against Atletico de Kolkata and a draw against FC Goa.

Gurung himself is unbeaten as a NorthEast player — the versatile defender partnered Joan Capdevila in centre-back against Kerala and played on the left in the next game to accommodate Miguel Garcia in the heart of defence.

Semifinals a realistic target for underdogs NorthEast Utd says toughtackling Robin Gurung

File picture of NorthEast United FC's Robin Gurung. Sportzpics

NorthEast's statistics are quite interesting — they've committed 26 fouls — the third highest in the eight Indian Super League teams — but have received just two yellow cards. Gurung has committed four of those fouls — a mark that despite being in defence, his tackling is squeaky clean, just like he says.

"I like to win tackles and keep the ball in the team’s possession. I would rather pass the ball to my team mates rather than just clear it," the 22-year-old told Firstpost in an interview.

Born in Sikkim, Gurung made his professional debut when he was just 17 — and the biggest change in his game is not technical, but mental.

"I have played for various teams across the four years and I have learned and developed a lot as a player. When I started at 17, I took time to adjust to the level of football required but now I have grown quite a lot mentally — especially in terms of more confidence on the pitch," he said.

The organisational skills of manager Ricki Herbert will certainly make him better as a player — that is one of ISL's primary objectives — but rather than show his defensive acumen, the former New Zealand manager has set his teams out in attacking patterns with a quick, zippy brand of passing.

"Ricki is a great coach and I have been mostly impressed with the way he wants us to play technically and how the players should react while in possession of the ball as well as when we are not in possession," Gurung says.

And that's exactly where NorthEast can hurt other teams. Herbert's is probably the only other team apart from Mumbai City that has shown a pressing style which has found so much fervour in world football since Pep Guardiola employed it during his time at Barcelona.

To get better at this, Gurung concentrated more on building his stamina and work-rate during pre-season.

But goals win games and apart from Spaniard Koke, NorthEast have looked quite light when it comes to attackers who can find the net. South Korean Dong Hyun Do is exciting and so is Durga Boro, but NorthEast need to couple their work-rate with goals.

"To some extent I feel we are the underdogs as we have a very young squad but we have a lot of talent and potential. I hope to help the team reach the semi final stage this year in the ISL," Gurung says.

The match tonight between Mumbai City and NorthEast is being billed as one between two attacking teams — but we may well see the visitors hassle Freddie Ljungberg and Co rather than see them go gung-ho. Gurung of course, will be vital to keeping a clean sheet against a team which fired five against hapless FC Pune City in their last game.

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