It is that time in a league when a single falter could prove detrimental to a team’s hopes for a playoff spot. Standing on that threshold, NorthEast United FC face a huge task of tackling the ATK Mohun Bagan challenge they face in their 13th fixture of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Goa on Tuesday.
The team is in contention for a playoff spot as it holds the fifth position on the league table thanks to a change in their winless run against Jamshedpur FC in their last encounter. The match — the first for the Highlanders after their Spanish coach Gerard Nus was shown the door – showed a shift in their style of play from a defensive mindset to a more possession oriented strategy.
But the northeast club is prepared to mould themselves into the best suited strategy for the day. “We are hoping to play a very balanced game. It is not about choosing to play long balls or possession football. It is about making the correct decision on the field according to the situation,” assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew, who have been holding the team reins now.
NEUFC are aware of the threat posed by the likes of Roy Krishna and David Williams in the ATK MB attack. But the signing of Deshorn Brown to boost the northeast strike force, who scored on debut in the last match, coupled with the presence of Federico Gallego, who looks to be getting into his creative groove and assisted in both goals against JFC, have raised the team’s morale.
“They are a good team but any team can beat any team in this league,” Jamaican Brown said on Monday. “We just have to get going from the beginning and things will happen.”
They will also be boosted by the return of Benjamin Lambot to hold the defensive fort, who is fit and has been training with the team.
ATKMB, who are close on the heels of leaders Mumbai City, will also be cautious to not slip up. Antonio Lopez Habas’ men left it late to win their previous game against Chennaiyin FC and the Spanish coach understands that NEUFC will present a tough challenge as well.
“I think the team played well for 90 minutes against Chennnaiyin. The players understood that we needed to win the game. We changed the system of how we play and under this new system, it was possible to score more goals,” Habas said on Monday.
“We have to give respect to our opponents and we have to be at our best to win the match. They are a difficult opponent. They have good players and they will make it difficult for us,” he added. This will exactly be the opinion in the Highlanders’ camp too.