Image Courtesy: Indian Super League Media Team

It was a must-win game for North East United FC (NEUFC), at the Indira Gandhi Stadium, in Guwahati, and they did exactly that, by beating defending champions Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) 1-0, in their fifth match of the Indian Super League (ISL).

Both the teams shave been struggling this season, with NEUFC losing their first three matches of the season. However, the Highlanders were riding high on confidence from their 2-0 victory over a strong Chennaiyin FC, and were looking to build on this, to build some momentum.

In a match, where the both the sides got a number of chances, the forwards were quite wasteful, and the goalkeepers proved their worth, with good saves. ATK custodian Amrinder Singh was especially brilliant under the bar, as he made save after save, from the likes of NEUFC defender Reegan Singh, and midfielder Bruno Arias.

NEUFC keeper Rehenesh Paramba was also outstanding at the other end of the pitch, thwarting good attempts from the likes of ATK midfielder Borja, and forward Iain Hume, who has now gone five matches without a goal, for the Kolkata-based side.

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However, the best chance of the night, arguably fell at the feet of Javier Lara, who practically had an open goal in front of him, from inside the penalty area. The Spaniard however, went for power, instead of precision, and sent the ball into the stands with a half volley.

NEUFC manager Cesar Farias threw the trio of Simao Sabrosa, Sanju Pradhan and Nicolas Velez, late in the second half, to get have some fresh legs run the weary ATK defence down. This tactic seemed to have worked instantly, as the Highlanders made frequent counter attacks at the ATK goal.

Velez scorched the grass with his blistering pace, catching the ATK defenders off guard, from the left flank. after a few bobbles in the box, the ball kindly fell for him, on the half volley, and the Argentinian expertly stroked it into the bottom corner, beyond a flailing Amrinder.

This 77th minute goal proved to be the difference between the two sides, as ATK failed to score, in spite of launching dangerous crosses into the NEUFC box, in the last 10 minutes.

Velez said in an interview, at the post-match presentation, “I’m very happy. (If) You (are a) striker, when you score its good. Most important is to get the three points. The confidence is high. I hope we can continue the same way in the next game against Mumbai.”

This result means that ATK have now slumped to their second defeat in as many matches, and the defending champions slowly seem to be slipping out of the top-four spots on the ISL table. The absence of key players seems to be hitting Antonio Lopez Habas’ men hard, as the ATK coach does not really have many options from the bench, if his initial plan fails.

They face Delhi Dynamos FC in their next match, at the Salt Lake Stadium, in Kolkata, and Habas needs to find a new solution for his team, before things start getting worse for the defending champions.

“I think we should have had three points. We conceded at the end, but we should have had at least one point,” said Amrinder, in the post-match presentation. “We missed so many chances. Delhi is a strong team, we have to prepare well for that match.”

NEUFC meanwhile, finally seem to have found their momentum in the league, as they move up to the sixth position, on the ISL table. Their next match is a crucial encounter against Mumbai City FC, at the DY Patil Stadium, in Mumbai. A victory in this match could take them clear of the bottom-strugglers, of the ISL.