NorthEast United FC sailed on the goal of Nicholas Velez to beat defending champion Atletico de Kolkata 1-0 at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here on Friday. The goal came late in the 77th minute, fetching the host their second successive win and a liberation form the bottom position in the league standings where its has been lying since the end of the last season.

The mach saw a much improved performance from the host, which has been struggling on the field mainly owing to the absence of a few key foreigners owing to injury. The arrival of two new foreign replenishments in the form of Cameroonian Andre Bikey and Argentine Carlos Lopez did steady the NEUFC ship. The confidence gained from the win against Chennaiyin FC in the last outing at the same venue did perk up the host, which commanded a greater share of the ball possession restricting the visitor to its own territory for most of the match.

The greater share of ball possession did not initially translate into a goal as the host continued to miss the services of a good striker. The France-Ghana combination of Diomansy Kamara and Francis Dadzie did not appear threatening around the opposition box making the task of the ATK defence easier. The host earned two chances but ATK custodian Amrinder Singh was up to the task. Amrinder blocked the first — a free-kick from Spaniard Bruno Arias in the 19th minute – and palmed away the second – a rasping volley from Regan Singh in the 29th minute - to keep the slate clean.

ATK created openings through attacking midfielder Javi Lara but both his efforts, coming in the 17th and 45th minutes, missed the mark. ATK’s lone striker Iain Hume could not break past the policing of Velez and the one header he attempted in the eighth minute was saved by Rehenesh in NEUFC goal. Both Lara and Hume committed the crime of missing sitters in the 49th and 74th minute. Lara shot wide from a point blank range while Hume shot straight into Rehenesh, who was the only man the ATK striker had to beat.

Velez, coming in as a 63rd minute substitute, grabbed the opportunity in the 77th minute when he was set up free inside the ATK box by a midfield assist. The striker passed back to an onrushing Sanju Pradhan, whose attempt came off ATK defender Arnab Mondal. Velez latched on to the rebound and finished with a snap right footer to ensure the three points for the host. NEUFC tallied six points from five matches while ATK remained on seven points after its fifth outing.

Earlier, ATK made five changes from their last outing, a 1-0 defeat to FC Pune City. Amrinder Singh replaced Juan Calatayud in goal, while Spaniard Jamie Gavilan came in for Arta Izumi and Baljit Sahni replaced Nadong Bhutia in midfield. In defence, Austine Fernandez replaced N. Mohanraj, and young Spaniard José Luis Espinosa Arroyo (Tiri) came in for seasoned compatriot Jose Miguel González Rey (Josemi).

NEUFC drafted in defender Carlos Javier Lopez as a replacement for injured Kondwani Mtonga, who has been ruled out for the season with an ACL strain and meniscal injury. Lopez, who last played in the premier division of Venezuela, got his place alongside Frenchman Cedric Hengbart in the deep defence.

The result: NorthEast United FC 1 (Nicolas Velez 77) bt Atletico Kolkata 0.