Well, well, well. Two games played so far in the inaugural Super Cup and so far we’ve had two victories for the I-League sides. Of course, the ISL is very volatile and you never really know what you’re going to get until it’s put in front of you, but for the I-League to effectively be 2-0 up, it comes as somewhat of a surprise. In this instance, we saw basement ISL side, NorthEast United take on Gokulam Kerala who finished their maiden I-League season in a credible 7th position.
Gokulam have been quick to act since the I-League finished and have brought in a new coach in the shape of Fernando Andres Santiago Valera and he got off to the best possible start to life in India as his side set up a last sixteen date with Bengaluru on the 1st of April.
Passion Conquers Talent
Going into the game, more people in the prediction league favoured Gokulam than NorthEast and it’s not difficult to see why as while the arrival of Avram Grant did bring a short-term uplift to results and performances, on the whole, they were dire throughout the season.
That being said, the likes of Marcinho and Danilo should have had too much for Gokulam, however, the names on the back are not as important as the badge on the front and while Gokulam’s two goals may have been scored by the same man, it was their collective desire and passion which saw them over the line.
There were two players in particular that stood out for Gokulam and while Nikhil Barnard in between the sticks got given the Man of the Match award it was Arjun Jayaraj and the Henry ‘the hitman’ Kisekka which ultimately made the difference.
Only two minutes had gone by and Kisekka was sniffing around the NorthEast defence, waiting to pounce. Considering that NorthEast leaked an average of 1.5 goals a game throughout the ISL season, the former Becamex Binh Duong forward would have known it was a matter of when as opposed to if.
The Hitman Does The Business
Seven minutes had gone when Jayaraj and Kisekka combined for the first time as the Ugandan front man picked up Jayaraj’s through ball, it was not meant to be that time, though. After a couple of chances for either side, with only two minutes left until the interval, the Jayaraj-Kisekka combo worked.
Another exquisitely weighted through ball by Jayaraj found Kisekka, yet, he still had an awful lot of work to do with the ball. Rehenesh in the NorthEast goal didn’t stand a chance as the ball went past him and Kisekka wheeled away in jubilation. Halftime came, advantage Gokulam.
NorthEast had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half without really forcing Barnard into any real action and they were made to pay with fifteen minutes remaining. Grant chucked on an extra striker as his side went in search of that elusive equaliser and in the end, it proved costly as gaps opened up at the back and Jayaraj and Kisekka combined yet again to make it two.
From that moment forward, it was all NorthEast as they went hell for leather, albeit, Gokulam stood strong and with a little bit of help from the woodwork they held on to ensure their season wasn’t over just yet.
‘My Players Have No Fear’
Kisekka rightly gets the plaudits as his finishing was the difference in this tie and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if NorthEast tried to sign him in the summer as he has exactly what they’ve been missing all season. Both sides were present at the post-match press conference, we’ll start with Gokulam coach Bino George, who was rightly ecstatic with how they played:
“Even the ball possession today was 50-50. I checked it myself. We created more chances. In the pre-match conference, I said that my boys can play very well here because the momentum has been high. Our performances in the last games has been the best. We had conceded very silly goals.”
His words were more than accurate, although, they were playing a NorthEast team who possess the worst goalscoring record in the ISL. You have to feel they’ll have to be even better when they face Bengaluru. George was under no illusions about that, mind…
“I know Bengaluru is a big budget team; the best in India right now. But my players have no fear right now. Whoever may our opponent be, we will try our best,”
Personally, I think a lot of the game will rest on who Roca selects against Gokulam as if Bengaluru go full-strength, they’ll wipe the floor with them.
NorthEast head coach Avram Grant also faced the media after the game, will it be his last press conference in charge of NorthEast?
‘Things Weren’t So Bad’ – Really, Avram?
“I think the reason for the loss was both the lack of finishing and poor defending. First we missed our chances and they scored. To be honest the team which won showed more desire; they wanted to win it more than us.”
His honesty is refreshing, it really is. One slight gripe, surely it’s his job to make all those things happen? The mind really does boggle at times. The ex-Chelsea manager closed by saying;
“I think, in the second half of ISL, the things weren’t so bad. The results were better. We played well most of the games. But today wasn’t the football we play.”
Let me stop you there, Avram. Things weren’t so bad. Under your tutelage, NorthEast picked up seven points from a possible thirty-three and you lost the last six league games, not scoring in five of them. I’ll give him that it was better than the first-half of the season because let’s face it, it couldn’t get much worse, nevertheless, that is a bizarre thing to say. It remains to be seen whether the Israeli will be in charge next season.
So, there you have it, Gokulam go marching on as NorthEast finish the season with a whimper. Today sees Mumbai take on Indian Arrows and ATK entertain Chennai City so I’ll be back with more reports tomorrow!
Until the next time.