ISL: Eastern neighbours meet in a battle for survival

The 41st match of the ongoing Indian Super League promises to be a keen affair as the eastern neighbours, Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) and NorthEast United FC (NEUFC), meet here at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium on Thursday.

Iain Hume will be key to ATK's efforts to stave off NorthEast United in its quest for a semifinal berth.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

The 41st match of the ongoing Indian Super League promises to be a keen affair as the eastern neighbours, Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) and NorthEast United FC (NEUFC), meet here at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium on Thursday.

ATK will look ease the threat on its stay in semifinal qualification zone. Meanwhile, the visitor is desperately seeking to stem a precipitous decline in form after being on top of the standings for a record 25 days at the start of the tournament. NEUFC, which has fallen to the seventh spot netting just 10 points, is the worst performer in the last five rounds where it has collected just one point from a draw while losing the other four matches successively.

In a short-format league four consecutive losses virtually means an exit form the tournament but NEUFC is still in the hunt as it still has five matches to go. The Highlanders’ Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada sounded philosophical hoping for a “rebirth” after losing to FC Goa by a goal that came in the last minute of additional time.

The experienced coach has been trying to invoke the winning mentality in his players, who seem battered by the sequel of losses. The home team too has seen some reverses lately. ATK was unbeaten in the first five matches but lost some momentum midway, losing twice in the last four matches.

Three points and three places in the league order separate the two teams in the current scenario. A win will greatly help both the sides. For the host it will be an increment in the rung and an assurance to continue in the top-four while for the visitor a win will put it back in the hunt for a knock-out place.

ATK, placed fourth in the table with 13 points, will be missing the services of versatile winger Sameehg Doutie owing to injury. However, coach Jose Molina asserted his absence would not deter the team’s prospects. ATK had beaten NEUFC 2-1 in the corresponding fixture earlier this season.

Canadian Iain Hume and the Portuguese Helder Postiga have had a staccato partnership in the home attack so far and Molina would be wishing the two of them regain the old rhythm. For Vingada, the return of Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro from suspension and Ivory Coast midfielder Romaric from injury will be making him more positive about a turnaround.