For NorthEast United FC to win this tie, they had to be better than they were on paper. For, on almost every count, Bengaluru FC had superior numbers. Their shot conversion, this season before Friday’s game was 15.6% compared to NorthEast United’s 6.6%. With their skipper Sunil Chhetri and another key forward Miku trying to better each other’s numbers in the top-5 goal-scorers’ list, Bengaluru haven’t faced a dearth in goals; only Goa have scored more than them.
NorthEast, meanwhile, were thirsting for goals and wins. The narrow home win against Goa helped them snap a four-match losing streak. Another one against Chennaiyin was a shot of confidence. A win away against the mighty Bengaluru could have revived their last-four hope. But on a night when some of the floodlights at Kanteerava Stadium dimmed, Chhetri’s spark of brilliance sealed the game – a 2-1 win – for Bengaluru.
Here are the interesting moments from the game:
NorthEast’s early half-chances
A deflection, after 10 minutes into the game, that headed out of the Bengaluru half, Halicharan Narzary took on after outpacing Harmanjot Khabra. Khabra slid, trying to push the ball out and away from danger, as the NorthEast attackers gathered inside Bengaluru’s penalty area. Halicharan’s left foot was nimble: it manoeuvred the ball, swiftly taking it away from Khabra, who rolled outside, and struck a right-footed cross, which could have produced a goal if it was a tad higher. But the Bengalureans thwarted it. The few seconds of the Halicharan-Khabra battle, nevertheless, was engrossing.
Two minutes later, Danilo Lopes made an explosive run from the left side; Khabra, once again, fell, trying to catch up. Lopes, then, quickly cut Lenny Rodrigues and shot towards Seiminlen Doungel who rushed towards the goalmouth. Doungel, surrounded by a couple of defenders, couldn’t receive the pass well and the ball rolled past the goalkeeper.
Len made a blistering run, after Juanan’s leaping header off a superb Edu Garcia free-kick put Bengaluru in the lead, and unleashed with his right-foot a scorcher that headed towards the top-right of Bengaluru’s net, but a flying Gurpreet Singh Sandhu punched it away.
Bengaluru’s enhanced attack in the second-half
NorthEast’s equaliser, off a penalty, towards the end of the first half seemed to charge the Bengalureans in the second half. Albert Roca’s half-time talk might have spurred the home team’s attack that lacked its characteristic lustre in the first half. “For some time, it was a difficult job to overcome the situations. But then in the second half, we had a talk to be a little calmer and it was just a question of going ahead and trying to score again,” the Spaniard said after the match. The regrouping, hence, proved vital.
A minute into the half-time, Udanta Singh intercepted NorthEast’s flow of passes and sent the ball to Miku in the right. Then, he rushed to the penalty box, awaiting the pass from Miku. But Marcinho and Reagan Singh took the ball away from him.
But Udanta was unstoppable. Within five minutes, he made another run from the half-line, passing the ball to Khabra. The defender crossed it from the right to Sunil Chhetri in the D-box. Sambinha, trying to clear, missed the ball. Nirmal Chettri, trying to clear, lobbed the ball with his knees. The ball fell before Sunil, but the angles to score were limited. The Blues skipper, though, sent a left-footed strike that dissected keeper Rehenesh and Nirmal before hitting the net for a 2-1 lead.
NorthEast: Defeated, but getting better
Excepting Nirmal’s defensive lapse and his failure to meet a free header at the 60th minute, NorthEast didn’t leave loose ends in their game. That they kept a usually potent Bengaluru attack dormant in the first half in their own backyard underlines their solid defence and mid-field. Creation of chances wasn’t lacking, converting them still seemed to be a problem.
But as Bengaluru’s coach Roca reckoned, NorthEast didn’t look like a side whose playoff chances are dim.
“We knew how difficult it would be to win today,” he stated. “[They] have really positive dynamics. They are a very physical team with good defenders, and very strong and quick midfielders. They also have (Halicharan) Narzary and Len (Seiminlen Doungel) in good shape. So, they are a team who do not deserve to be where they are. They had a bad start to the season, but I think this team will be much better up until the end of the season.”