An 81st-minute stunner from Uruguayan Federico Gallego helped NorthEast United seal an important 2-1 win over ATK Mohun Bagan in the Indian Super League, with the Highlanders leapfrogging into fifth in the table. A crucial three points for NEUFC as they close the gap with fourth-placed Hyderabad with their eyes set on the playoffs. Meanwhile, for ATK Mohan Bagan, the night was a missed opportunity to close the six-point gap with leaders Bengaluru FC who drew against Chennaiyin FC yesterday.
Under interim coach, Khalid Jamil, the Highlanders started the game with solid defence as they kept high pressing ATKMB at bay. The lack of ball possession proved to have caused a lot of problem for the Kolkata side as Antonia Habas was constantly furious on the sidelines. Mohan Bagan had their first chance in as early as the eighth minute and continued to prowl outside their opponents half. ATKMB had great moments to catch the Highlanders defence on the hop on several occasions with Roy Krishna finding lots of space on both wings. As such, after the half-hour-mark, Mohan Bagan keeper Arindam Bhattacharya was forced to make a save after Machado received the ball from Gallego and had a shot at goal.
The deadlock was finally broken in 60th minute as a misguided pass from defender Tiri was intercepted by Gallego who put Machado in who slotted it past the helpless goalkeeper. NEUFC nearly scored their second goal shortly after when Gallego curled in a sublime cross across the face of the goal. The Mohan Bagan dugout was furious with the referee when he allowed NEUFC’s goal to stand, despite an alleged foul on Tiri during the build-up. ATKMB retaliated through Krishna in the 72nd-minute for Mohan Bagan as both sides pressed more for goals. All credit to Carl McHugh who found Krishna through a beautiful ball from the centre. However, Gallego made all the difference for the Highlanders as he cut in from the left side and curled the ball into the back of the net in the 81st minute to make it 2-1. There was a late penalty cry for the Kolkata side after Roy Krishna went down in the box after skirmishing with NEUFC goalie Subhasish Roy, but the referee ended up awarding a goal kick.
It’s 2 wins in 2 games for the young coach Khalid Jamil since his presence for NorthEast United proved to have changed the approach of NEUFC from that of former coach, Gerard Nus. Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan with 24 points in 13 games have so far dropped points for the sixth time this season. The major setback of the game for Bagan would be a possible injury scare for centreback Tiri as he has ended the game in obvious discomfort. NorthEast meantime have now gone toe to toe with fourth-placed Hyderabad at 18 points and are now well placed within sight of the playoff. ATK Mohun Bagan have now lost two of their last eight matches in this season of the Indian Super League.
NorthEast now face league leaders Mumbai City FC on January 30, while ATKMB facing a struggling Kerala Blasters on the 31st.