ISL: Desperate NorthEast out to stop resurgent Pune City

NorthEast United FC coach Nelo Vingada’s optimism is renewed perhaps by the fact that his team picked up its last win (1-0) against FC Pune City on October 12.

NorthEast United FC captain Didier Zokora (L) and FC Pune City captain Mohamed Sissoko during the corresponding fixture earlier this season.   -  SPORTZPICS

Ahead of his team’s 11th outing in the Indian Super League, Nelo Vingada wondered aloud in perceptible bewilderment about the plight of NorthEast United FC. With the hope of qualifying to the knock-out stage dwindling fast, the experienced Portuguese coach was looking for that moment of inspiration that would get his side back the win, which has eluded it for more than five weeks.

Vingada has not lost faith in his team’s ability saying that the results in the past few weeks do not indicate the real strength of his team, which he felt has played good football all through but could not convert chances in the right measure.

“We had the bird in the hand so many times but it escaped just when we thought it was in our grasp,” Vingada tried to describe the flaw that hit his side. “Not everything is negative with the side. We have a very good percentage of shots at the goal but somehow the conversion rate is not what we had desired."

The “Professor,” as Vingada is fondly referred to, gave a lesson on optimism saying the Highlanders will come up with something special when the host takes on FC Pune City, here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Tuesday. NEUFC, which is currently placed seventh with 11 points from 10 matches, has picked just two points in the last six matches, which included three straight losses at home.

Vingada’s optimism was renewed perhaps by the fact that his team picked up the last win (1-0) visiting Pune on October 12. With only four matches reaming, the host is looking for a turnaround in the sixth outing at home turf. The last minute equaliser from Iain Hume that helped Atletico Kolkata force a 1-1 draw in the last match is still hurting NEUFC, but the coach insisted a win tomorrow at home will get his side back in contention.

“We are still alive and I hope we do something special to turn things around against our opponent tomorrow,” Vingada said hoping that his attack comes good against Pune City FC.

The attack, with Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro (who is one among the current top scorers of the tournament) and Argentine Nico Velez, has played well in patches but injuries to defenders like Brazilian Gustavo Lazzaretti and the Indians Robin Gurung and Nirmal Chettri is keeping the host on tenterhooks.

FC Pune City, which beat Delhi Dynamos 4-3 in its last outing before climbing to fourth spot with 15 points from 11 matches, is definitely one of the best outfits on current form. The Spanish gaffer of the Stallions, Antonio Habas, felt the sides which make the least mistakes in the home stretch will make it to semis.

“We had a completely new side under a new coach so the things took time to happen initially. Now the team has settled down to a system and the players are also comfortable with the shape of the side,” Habas said. “The sides which hold on to the momentum and make less mistakes in the last few rounds will be finishing in the top four. We hope to continue with the good work that team has achieved in the last few rounds,” Habas said looking at the three wins his side has scored in the last four matches.

The good form of Spanish striker Anibal Rodriguez, who scored a brace against Dynamos, will be keeping the visitor hopeful. With the midfielders Mohamed Sissoko of Mali and Brazilian Jonathan Lucca giving good support to the attack, the visitor, which has won three of its last four outings, will be looking to reach second spot by wrapping up another win in the process.

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