NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) will have its eyes on a maiden play-offs spot when it hosts FC Pune City in its Indian Super League (ISL) match in Guwahati on Wednesday.
NEUFC is one of four teams to lose just three matches this season. The Highlanders have picked up 27 points from 16 matches and sit third on the table.
A 2-0 win over Mumbai City FC in its last game should give it the confidence to overcome a resurgent Pune.
“I didn’t mention anything to the players about qualifying. I really take it game by game because if I look back at the last 10 games, the number of times I had to shuffle to make the best possible eleven, it was almost 10 games,” said Eelco Schattorie.
With 12 goals, Bartholomew Ogbeche remains the key player for NEUFC and he is two goals shy of equalling Ferran Corominas. Federico Gallego, who is joint-second on the list of most assists, and new recruit Panagiotis Triadis have been good supporting cast to Ogbeche.
“Our tactics were spot on offensively (against Mumbai City). That was how it was supposed to be, but it is not like I’m sitting here with the full conviction that everything is going to be fine,” added Schattorie.
After a bad start to the season, Pune has regained form under new head coach Phil Brown. Its last defeat came in November, against Bengaluru FC. Since then, the Stallions have won four out of five matches and are seventh on the table with 18 points.
Brown has breathed life into a squad that now stands an outside chance of bagging a spot in the play-offs but it is counting upon NEUFC and MCFC losing points in their remaining games.
“I am impressed with the group that I am working with, the players have taken to my methods very well. As a coach, you’re delighted with that. I think we have good goals in our team and when you got that as a coach, then you can apply your methods with a lot of belief and confidence. The Indian players, in particular, have taken to that,” said the Pune head coach.
Striker Robin Singh grabbed a brace as Pune defeated Jamshedpur FC in its last match and has been a threat up front in recent games. Ashique Kuruniyan has been a menace from the wings for the opposition full-backs.
Brown will look for a fourth consecutive win away from home as Pune takes the field in Guwahati, but he'll have to do without Marcelinho who is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card against Jamshedpur.
As for NEUFC, it would not want to let go of this chance to achieve qualification for the first time.