NorthEast United FC scored two quick goals near the death to down a 10-man Chennaiyin FC 2-0 in Hero ISL match that was bruised by recurrent altercations and unsportsmanlike conducts, here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Tuesday.
The result was encouraging for the hosts, who picked up their first points of the tournament, but the fixture will go down as one of the most bruising encounters in the tournament's history. There were in all 10 bookings and a red card, suggesting the over-prevalence of tension and bad blood to contain which referee Conger Mathew had to flash many cautions and eject a player — midfielder Harmanjot Khabra of Chennaiyin FC.
There is little to be said about the quality of the match as the action hardly touched the class expected from the two well-matched sides. The home side earned two penalties, of which it missed the first and scored from the second. Simao Sabrosa, the NEUFC’s marquee player who made his ISL debut coming in as a 74th minute substitute, scored the second penalty in the 89th minute before another substitute, Nicolas Velez of Argentina, doubled the score in injury-time (90+4 minute).
The first half was more about brawls and bad-mouthing among players and also the coaches — NEUFC’s Cesar Farias and Chennaiyin’s Marco Materazzi. There was less to be said about the action on the pitch as the hosts, who had the greater share of ball possession, ran out of ideas in the striking zone while the visitors preferred to play a waiting game. NEUFC clearly missed the services of a quality striker as two manning their attack — Frenchman Dimonsy Kamara and Ghanaian Francis Dadzie — did not show the incisiveness to breach the opponent defence under the command of the France-Italy combination of Bernard Mendy and Alessandro Potnza.
The hosts were awarded a penalty in the 38th minute when referee Conger Mathew hauled up Potenza for fouling his counterpart Cedric Hengbert. Kamara messed up once again as his feeble spot-kick was saved by the Chennaiyin custodian Edel Bete. The bad blood started after this as Khabra was sent off for violent conduct in the 40th minute. The tension on the field spilled over into the technical area outside the line as Farias and Materazzi indulged in a prolonged exchange of words and gesticulations before the assistant referees and other officials calmed the two down. The second session was no exception as there was hardly any improvement in the standard of the game while the players got involved in frequent brawls that required regular cautioning from the referee.
The hosts altered their attack formation in the second half, bringing in Velez in the 54th minute and Simao, who retuned from an injury lay-off in the final quarter of the match. The second penalty happened in the 89th minute when Velez saw his left-footer coming off the upright and as Simao went for the rebound he was brought down by Chennaiyin’s Jayesh Rane inside the box. Velez, who was set off by a pass from Sanju Pradhan, got the second goal to ensure the first win of the season for the hosts.
The Chennaiyin think tank went for an all-India attack including Jayesh Rane and Jeje Lalpekhlua in the offensive line-up, while resting the more proficient Cameroon-Brazil duo of Stiven Mendoza and Brazilian Elano. Ethiopian Fikru Taferra was the third man in the offensive array. The rotation of players, which saw four more changes like French defender Bernard Mendy, Italian Manuele Blasi and Brazilian Bruno Pelissari in midfield, and defender Dhanachandra Singh, was perhaps forced by the fact that the Chennai outfit was playing its second match in four days.
The home side had made seven alterations which were apparently necessitated by the urge to spruce up their performance, which has so far oscillated between mediocre and bad in the past three rounds. Coach Cesar Farias changed all full Indian quota that had played in the last match and brought in the likes of Iborlang Khongjee, Robin Gurung (defenders), Boithang Haokip (midfielder), Holicharan Narzary and T.P Rehenesh (goalkeeper). Among the foreigners, the Spanish midfielder got a look in while Cameroon’s Andre Bike made his debut in NEUFC defence.
North East United draft in Bikey
North East United bolstered their side, drafting in Cameroon defender Andre Bikey ahead of the match in place of the injured Portuguese stopper-back Miguel Garcia. The latter had suffered an Achilles Tendon rupture in the first outing for the team and is ruled out for 10 to 12 weeks, according to a release for the ISL. The 30-year-old Cameroonian Bikey last played for English Championship side Charlton Athletic.