NorthEast United FC has witnessed a fairytale run in the seventh edition of the Indian Super League. Defying all odds, the Highlanders have silenced critics, who had written them off after their mid-season slump. But then came coach Khalid Jamil, who produced a stunning turnaround to lead them to just their second playoffs.
Khalid Jamil has remained unbeaten in the nine games since he took over, recording six wins and three draws. He now looks to carry on with that momentum when his team clashes against ATK Mohun Bagan at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim, on March 6.
Jamil believes all credit must go to his players. “All the players have worked very hard. Because of them, we have reached here. I never think about the nine matches. It’s about right from the first game. The boys have worked hard and I am very proud to be their coach,” the NorthEast United coach said.
The match will be between the two sides with similar approaches. Both teams will be set up in a compact way to make it difficult for the opposition.
Scoring first important for NorthEast United
Every time the Highlanders have taken a lead, they have been impossible to beat. NorthEast United took the lead on 13 occasions this season and won eight, shared points in the rest. ATK Mohun Bagan work on similar lines. Having taken the lead 14 times, ATKMB has won 12 and drawn 2.
Jamil is aware of the importance of scoring first. “We are going to play against a good team. ATK Mohun Bagan is a good side. Defensively strong and their attack is strong too. We have to be very careful as the first match is very important. It will be the toughest game of the league. So, we will have to prepare well and we will have to be strong,” Jamil said.
NorthEast United can look at history for encouragement. ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Habas is winless in three first-leg ISL semifinals, losing two and drawing one. “It’s an advantage but we are thinking about tomorrow. It’s our first game we have to be careful,” added Jamil.
For ATK Mohun Bagan, the last three games cost them the League Winners Shield. However, the club is still in the contest for the ISL crown and will hope to redeem their season by lifting the title. “NorthEast United have had a good ISL season. It’s a very difficult team because they have good players in defence, central midfield and good players in attack. They also had good performances and give 100 per cent on the pitch,” said Habas.