NorthEast United sealed their playoff berth following their 2-0 win over Kerala Blasters FC in the Indian Super League in Goa on February 26.
Having extended their unbeaten run to nine games, coach Khalid Jamil also created history by becoming the first Indian coach to have managed three or more league games and still steered his team to the playoffs.
Needing just a point to qualify for their second-ever playoffs, the Highlanders showed no signs of stopping as they attacked from the first whistle. They gained an advantage in the first session through goals from Suhair Vadakkepeedika (34’) and Lalengmawia (45’).
Coach Khalid Jamil fielded an unchanged XI from their previous game while Kerala Blasters had just one change with Sandeep Singh preferred over Subha Ghosh.
The Highlanders fashioned a great opportunity soon after the start. Luis Machado sent in a delivery into the box, which was headed out straight back to him. His cross from the right found Dylan Fox but he shot wide.
At the other end, it was Kerala who missed getting ahead in the game. Bakary Kone managed to evade his marker and to get to the end of a Jessel Carneiro corner, but his header missed the target.
Though NorthEast United were clearly the better side in the first session, KBFC did have their chances. But the Highlanders’ defense stood strong. Then, in the 34th minute, NorthEast United took the lead.
Khassa Camara slipped in a through ball which Kone failed to deal with. Suhair Vadakkepeedika got on to the ball and got past Sandeep Singh, before rounding off an advancing Albino Gomes, to put his side ahead.
NorthEast United men increased their lead just before the breather through an astonishing Lalengmawia ‘Apuia’ strike. Fox set up Lalengmawia, whose well-struck long-ranger bounced off the underside of the bar into the net. Jamil’s ecstatic look at the touchline showed just how good the goal was.
KBFC had a better start to the second session. They created chances through Rahul KP and Gary Hooper, but a finish eluded them. At the other end, Gomes was forced into a fine save when Machado showed his brilliance and on entering the box, tried his luck at goal.
Then Deshorn Brown, missed a great opportunity, striking the crossbar.
Despite their chances, NorthEast United just couldn’t get their third. Their best chance came when Federico Gallego played a weighted pass to Brown, who managed to evade Gomes. However, his shot from a tight angle found the side netting.