ISL: NorthEast United takes on Kerala Blasters in must-win encounter

KBFC forward Bartholomew Ogbeche returns to his former club NEUFC, which needs to win all its remaining fixtures to stay in top-four contention, on Friday.

KBFC’s Bartholomew Ogbeche pays a visit to his old stomping ground as he faces former club NEUFC in the ISL on Friday.   -  ISL Media

Mathematically, NorthEast United FC can still make it to the Indian Super League (ISL) play-offs but will need to do too much in the remaining games, starting with a win against Kerala Blasters FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.

NorthEast United has 11 points from 13 games and is ninth on the table. It can still make it to the top four, if it wins all its remaining five matches. But for a side which has won just two games so far, winning five in a row could be a difficult ask. That may still not be enough as it will need teams above it to drop points as well.

Last year’s semifinalist, NorthEast has been pegged back by the premature exit of Ghanaian star Asamoah Gyan from the competition due to an injury. Since his exit, it hasn’t scored a single goal in its last four matches.

“We had a lot of problems with strikers. We did not have a second striker. Maximilian (Barreiro) left. After that Asamoah had to leave due to serious injury and also Pana (Panagiotis Triadis). In those four games in a row, we played really well but couldn’t score. That is the only problem we have,” said NorthEast coach Robert Jarni.

READ | ISL 2019-20: Points table, goals scored, goals difference

Jarni may be tempted to think what might have been his team's scenario now had last year’s top-scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche continued with them. The Nigerian striker helped the Highlanders make it to its first-ever ISL play-off last season. However, he parted ways with the club in the summer to join Kerala Blasters along with Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie.

Ogbeche has been in prolific form with 11 goals for the Kochi-based side and has also netted seven in the last five outings. Such has been the impact of Ogbeche’s departure from NorthEast that the striker has more goals to his name this season than what the Highlanders have collectively scored.

Neither Ogbeche nor Schattorie – who coached NorthEast last season -- has had any cause to celebrate at Kerala. The former finalist was within a fighting chance of making it to the top-four but those hopes evaporated after it was grounded by Chennaiyin FC 6-3. Kerala has now conceded 12 goals in its last three matches, including six at home during the last game.

"That (vs Chennaiyin) was not a complete defensive failure. It was more individual errors, we all know what happened. Till 38th minute, match was dominated by us. If you commit such mistakes, we need to address them. We did our work on that and we have to cut down those individual errors which can cost you games," said Kerala Blasters assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed.

Schattorie will continue to be suspended for the clash against NorthEast United. However, there is some good news for Kerala as Moustapha Gning and Vlatko Drobarov are back in contention for a start after serving their suspension.

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