The NorthEast United boss was impressed by Apuia’s piledriver against Kerala Blasters
In just the second minute of the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) match between NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters, Dylan Fox missed a big chance from close-range off a Luis Machado delivery into the box. Five minutes later, Bakary Kone missed a free header at the other end of the pitch from a corner-kick.
After missing one big chance each in the opening 10 minutes, both sides went in completely different directions for the rest of the 80 minutes. And at the end of the 90 minutes, there was one deserved winner.
The Highlanders, who needed a point to confirm their entry into the playoffs for the second time in the club’s history, punished a poor Kerala Blasters team 2-0 and grabbed three points. Khalid Jamil, who is unbeaten with his team since he took over from Gerard Nus (eight games and counting) became the first Indian coach to lead a team into the ISL play-offs. It has been quite a remarkable turnaround for a team that had gone seven games without a win before Nus was sacked in the second week of January.
There is now a fighting spirit in the team that has helped them cross the finish line with ease. And they were helped by an opponent who was terrible and had only pride to play for.
Khassa Camara and Lalengmawia were just too good in the middle of the pitch against their counterparts and made sure that Blasters were never really in the game. Camara’s through-ball after the half-hour mark took a deflection off a completely out-of-sorts Kone and fell perfectly for the lethal VP Suhair who rounded Albino Gomes to break the deadlock.
If Kerala Blasters had plans to think about an equaliser or a comeback, their hopes were doused when Lalengmawia decided to launch a rocket from outside the box at the stroke of half-time. His thunderous strike hit the underside of the crossbar and went in.
Imran Khan has been doing a decent job of acting as a backup option for Federico Gallego who is expected to return to full fitness for the play-offs. VP Suhair has been a threat from wide areas all seasons and has continued his impressive form from his title-winning Mohun Bagan days. Former Bengaluru FC striker Deshorn Brown looks dangerous and a totally different player at NorthEast United. And Luis Machado has been excellent and unpredictable with the ball at his feet.
With full-backs Ashutosh Mehta and Provat Lakra injured (the former was unavailable for the game and the latter was forced off the field in the 20th minute), Blasters attempted to threaten from wide areas but neither Rahul KP nor Prasanth Karuthadathkuni could deliver good quality crosses into the box.
The Blasters defence has been absolutely shambolic all season. And against the NorthEast their attack was also not too different. They couldn’t register a single shot on target in the entire game. Some of those players have to take up the responsibility for their extremely shoddy displays which would have attracted vituperative outbursts if they were playing in front of their supporters in Kochi.
The two teams will now go in two different directions. NorthEast United will wait for the results of the matches on Sunday to know who they will be up against in the semi-final. Blasters, meanwhile, will pack their bags and say goodbye to Goa.