Odisha FC climbed back into the playoff spots of the Indian Super League (ISL) after a resounding 3-1 win against NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Friday.
Goals from Nandhakumar Sekar, Victor Rodriguez, and Diego Mauricio picked up three vital points for the Juggernauts, who are now one point away from sealing their first-ever playoff qualification.
Odisha FC kicked off with Pedro Martin and Diego Mauricio up front. The attacking intent was evident, but it was NorthEast United FC who made the better start and ventured forward in the first ten minutes. The first attempt came from Jithin MS as the winger tried to bend one into the far post from the left flank but ended up firing it wide.
At the other end of the pitch, Odisha FC finally started challenging the NorthEast United FC backline. Opportunities fell to the Spanish duo of Martin and Saul Crespo but neither one of them could get their attempts on target.
But in the 36th minute, the deadlock was broken and Odisha FC took a crucial lead. Raynier Fernandes and Sahil Panwar exchanged a couple of passes after a short corner as the latter found Nandhakumar near the edge of the box. The winger took one look at goal and put his boot through the ball to find the top right corner.
NorthEast United FC had a couple of opportunities in the first ten minutes of the second half. From a corner aimed at the far post, Aaron Evans’ header was off target. Moments later, Parthib Gogoi showed excellent awareness on the right flank as he spotted an opening at the near post. The youngster tried his luck from near the touchline and forced Amrinder to readjust his footing and palm it behind for a corner.
But Odisha FC established a two-goal cushion five minutes past the hour-mark. From the right flank, Crespo squared a low ball into the box for Rodriguez. The substitute’s deft touch helped him dodge Evans before driving it past Bhattacharja seven minutes after coming on. In the last ten minutes, Laldanmawia Ralte fouled Crespo inside the box and gave away a penalty. Mauricio fired it straight down the middle to make it 3-0.
In the second minute of stoppage time, a first clean sheet in eight games was snatched away from Odisha FC after Wilmar Gil fired one home from the spot following Shubham Sarangi’s foul.
Odisha FC leapfrogged FC Goa and ATK Mohun Bagan and will host Jamshedpur FC on February 22. If they avoid defeat in that game, it could mean curtains for FC Goa’s playoff hopes, as they will be dependent on ATK Mohun Bagan dropping points in both their remaining games. NorthEast United FC will finish their season at the Marina Arena against Chennaiyin FC on February 24. (ANI)