Avram Grant Transforms NorthEast As They Finally Wake Up

Things could only get better right? After an opening to the season to forget for NorthEast, surely something had to give in the month of January? A collective new year’s prayer from the NorthEast faithful was answered on the 3rd of the month as Joao de Deus was relieved of his duties which meant that we were to be without any of his nonsensical rubbish in his press conferences, nonetheless, he gave us some good times.

You can read November here and December here.

Avram Grant Arrived With A Wealth Of Experience

NorthEast owner John Abraham called up a personal friend to assist him in his hour of need. That person was none other than ex-Chelsea gaffer Avram Grant, who is not the worst person in the world to have in your phone book when you find yourself in a bit of a crisis and let’s face it, this was one of those situations.

Grant brought Eelco Schattorie with him and I was fortunate enough to have a chat with the Dutchman when they were still settling in and you can read that by clicking here. My chat with Eelco took place in between their first and second games in charge, so let’s get cracking and see how they went.

January began with a home game against an FC Goa side who were not best pleased what had happened on their trip to Kolkata (issues with the plane) and they were still reeling when they reached Guwahati. FC Goa came up against a NorthEast side that was completely unrecognisable from Joao de Deus’ tenure, they were well drilled and disciplined which shows that sometimes it all it does take is a change in personnel.

It wasn’t as if Grant had brought loads of players with him, it was the same squad, yet they had gone from being embarrassed away at Pune to putting in a helluva performance against FC Goa. Unsurprisingly, it was Marcinho who gave NorthEast the lead. Danilo put the ball into the danger area and the rest was done by his countryman; an excellent first touch gave him the room to finish via a deflection and both posts. Sometimes you need a bit of lady luck on your side.

And Also A Bit Of Lady Luck, It Would Seem

What probably won’t surprise you either is that it was some lax defending from NorthEast which let FC Goa back into the game less than ten minutes later; the ball is played in, the keeper and two defenders all make an almighty mess of the situation and Manuel Arana takes full advantage and draws Goa level. From that point, I thought FC Goa were going to score three or four and pile further misery onto NorthEast, how wrong I was…

Marcinho was at the heart of the action again as NorthEast took the lead just after the interval; he timed the through ball to Seminlen Doungel expertly and for some reason unknown to man, Kattimani in the Goa goal came rushing off his line which meant that Doungel’s mind was made up and he chipped the keeper to send the home crowd into raptures. Genuinely. They were going nuts.

That was that and it meant that NorthEast had finally not only managed to score at home, but they’d also won a game as well! Hell would be freezing over in due course. Grant summed it up well after the game:

“I think the team were very disciplined today. They kept their positions and remained calm when we had the ball.”

On further reflection, I miss Joao. Where’s the fun in a normal press conference? Bloody hell, imagine the state of the press conference if they’d won with Joao in charge, he would’ve probably shown the room his blueprints for world domination. Maybe if you return one day to the ISL, Joao, maybe one day.

Their second game of the month, another one in front of their own fans was an easier one paper. As the saying from an old FIFA game goes, though: ‘Football isn’t won on paper, it’s won on that green thing out there’ and Grant was only too aware of that. It was Grant’s assistant, the aforementioned Schattorie that faced the press prior to the ATK game and he was as candid as can be.

Both Grant & Schattorie Were Talking Sense

“We have to focus on our own team and try to get out of the situation where we were in. We have to be together and work together. You have to have a good defensive organisation. Scoring goals are also important but that depends on how many quality players you have on the team who can score goals. We are working on it.

We need to improve. I like to play attacking football. You see teams like Goa or Bengaluru who like to play attacking football. It is difficult for us to reach that level. For us, we have to stay together and hopefully we get results from now on.”

It wasn’t a pretty game by a long stretch, nevertheless, NorthEast were defensively sound without really creating anything and in the end, it was a moment of pure, unadulterated filth that separated the sides. It was a wonder goal. A dream of an effort. It was the sort of goal that you can only imagine scoring in your wildest dreams.

Well, ATK’s Zequinha did just that with only seventeen minutes remaining. The Brazilian had three NorthEast defenders close by and it didn’t look like anything would come of it, but then he took one touch to set himself and what followed was sensational. Rehenesh didn’t stand a chance of getting close to it as the ball was rifled in the top corner. It was a fitting way for the game to be settled.

Football really is a funny old game. No-one would’ve given NorthEast a chance against Goa and they won. Some would’ve given them a chance against ATK and they lost and now we’re up to the penultimate game of the month, another at home, against Chennaiyin and I’d file this in the same category as the FC Goa game. Not. A. Chance. Guess what? They won again. Mental.

Someone Call 999 Because Doungel Is On Fire! 

Earlier in the season, Chennaiyin trounced them by three goals to nothing and it was thought more of the same would be on the cards in Guwahati on this occasion. Avram & Co had other plans. It would take until the 42nd minute for there to be a goal in the game and Karanjit in the Chennaiyin goal should have done better on reflection.

Danilo’s shot was low and hard so it wasn’t the easiest to handle, yet, he should’ve managed to keep hold of it, or worse case scenario, tip it around the post for a corner. Neither of those happened as he pushed it into the path of Seminlen Doungel who finished with ease. He was getting the hang of this scoring lark, was Doung.

Doungel took just nineteen seconds to score in the second half as Chennaiyin fell to pieces. Danilo’s through ball accompanied with Doungel’s smart run meant all Doungel had to was finish. And finish he did. It was sort of weird though as it went in slow motion past Karanjit, who once more, could’ve done better, I feel. That made it two goals in four minutes for Doungel.

It was three goals in twenty-six minutes as he was at it again. Rule #329 in the defensive handbook states that if a player has scored twice, you definitely shouldn’t leave him unmarked. Chennai must’ve not been bothered by that rule or many others as he ghosted into the penalty area and made it three for him and three for NorthEast. Incredible.

Anirudh Thapa got a consolation for Chennaiyin, but let’s not dwell on that, what a performance from the Highlanders. Six points from the three January home games is a tally that not even the most ardent of NorthEast fan would’ve dreamed of. Do you want to know the best thing about it all? There was still one game left to play…

Arguably the hardest game of the month was saved for last. NorthEast travelled to Bangalore to play a Bengaluru side who were the best side in the league according to a lot of people and I would put myself in that category as there was just something about the Bengaluru side that makes you sit up and look at them.

Abacus At The Ready

When Juanan headed home from Edu Garcia’s beautiful freekick, I feared the worst for Grant’s side, I really did. In fact, I was that worried that out came my abacus in preparation for me trying to figure out how many goals Bengaluru were going to score. Little did I know, that NorthEast had other ideas.

On the stroke of halftime, Seminlen’s tricky footwork won NorthEast a penalty as Bose handled the floor on the deck; the penalty was given by the linesman and it was one of there you’d be fuming if it was given against you, but if it was for you, you’d say it was a definite penalty.

Marcinho didn’t need asking twice as he rocketed the penalty into the roof of the net leaving Gurpreet with no chance whatsoever and the game wonderfully poised as the teams entered the changing rooms at the interval.

Six minutes had gone in the second half before parity was restored. A wicked ball into the box by Harmanjot Khabra could’ve been cleared by Sambinha to begin with and then Nirmal Chettri should’ve got rid of it, neither did enough and there was Sunil Chhetri at the back post to finish emphatically to put Bengaluru back in the lead.

There were to be no more goals for the month of January and on the whole, I think January can be chalked up as a success, especially when you consider that they got more points during the first month of 2018 than they did in the previous two combined. Solid start, Avram. A solid start indeed. Can it be continued into the month of February?

Find out next time.  

About the Author

Jake Flock
Football and writing are my two biggest passions, so seems right to combine the pair, don't you think?