Alfaro winner lifts NorthEast to top of the table

NorthEast United FC defeated Pune City FC 1-0. It was the Highlanders' third win in four matches and the result catapulted the team to the top of the points table.

Emiliano Alfaro and Nicolas Velez celebrate NorthEast United FC victory over FC Pune City

Emiliano Alfaro and Nicolas Velez celebrate NorthEast United FC's victory over FC Pune City on Wednesday.   -  Special Arrangement

Romaric inspired NorthEast United FC in a forceful second-half display, culminating in a 1-0 away victory over FC Pune City in a Hero ISL 2016 game at the Balewadi Stadium on Wednesday. Emiliano Alfaro struck the knockout blow, sealing the Highlanders' third victory in four games.

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Pune City’s shifting defence was surprised by a passing bout involving three players. Nicolas Velez picked out Alfaro with a neat pass, who in turned found Katsumi. The latter took a crack at target but the ball deflected into the path of Alfaro who slided it home on second touch. Edel Bete kept his eyes on the ball but could not block.

Romaric stole the thunder from two other skilful Africans, Didier Zakora from Ivory Coast and Mohammed Sissoko from Mali, who were expected to influence the flow of play as marquee players for NorthEast and Pune City respectively.

None of them could match up to Romaric in terms of pace, control and booming shots.

NorthEast is now on top the league table after this commanding performance. Pune City has three points after three games.

Sissoko, tall and imposing under the floodlights, dominated the space around the centre circle on his debut game in front of home fans. The visiting team defended stoutly, was more positive in driving forward and the linkmen found their target man, but no goals were scored. Katsumi chipped a pass across the goal towards striker Alfaro at the left post. The Uruguayan dashed ahead but could not read the bounce.

Nirmal Chetri picked up a red card in the 36th minute for a rash front-footed challenge on Anibal Rodriguez. Even as NorthEast was down to 10 men, the Pune City striker limped away to the sideline for treatment.

Fans howled in the stands. Kofi Ndri (Romaric) teamed up with Alfaro to test Edel Bete's reaction under the Pune City bar. Romaric chipped the ball from a free-kick to a crouching Alfaro who headed the ball towards the goal, but the danger was averted by the alert Cameroon custodian.

Pune City came out bolder on resumption. Sissoko became assertive, the right flank came into play, Lenny Rodrigues ballooned a drive over. Romaric showcased craft and class in the 56th minute, evading a Sissoko lunge near his own box, and raced across the turf for a snap shot.

The game took another twist in the 76th minute when Pune City lost defender Eduardo Ferreira. The Brazilian leaped up for a headed clearance and got into a tangle with Romaric.

Referee pulled out the yellow and then flashed the red card as it was his second offence. Both sides were a man short, but NorthEast was smarter.

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