NorthEast United beat Pune City 3-2 at the Indira Gandhi Stadium, Guwahati, on Wednesday night to move back into the top four. Goals from Nicolas Velez, Diomansy Kamara and Andre Bikey gave Cesar Farias’s side a lifeline and a chance to qualify for the semi-finals.
First Half: NorthEast score thrice to heap misery on Pune City
In their last league game of the season, NorthEast took the ground with a clear intent to attack. Forward Nicholas Velez, who is usually substituted in the second half, was given a start alongside Kamara while marquee player Simao and veteran Silas started from the bench. They have made four changes in total with Reagan Singh and Cedric Hengbart sitting out.
Pune City too made four key changes for their do-or-die encounter with Kalu Uche, Jackichand, Roger Johnson and Moirangthem Govin starting while Manish Maithani, Yendrick Ruiz and Tuncay Sanli sat out. Eugeneson Lyngdoh missed out due to suspension.
In only the fourth minute of the game, Velez gave the team their fastest goal of the tournament. It was a beautiful counter-attack by Victor Mendy who crossed from the left for Velez who hammered it into the back into the net to score the 150th goal of the ISL. The joy, however, was short-lived as James Bailey soon equalized for the visitors. An unmarked Bailey curled a beautiful pass from Didier Zakora to beat Rehenesh and score his first goal of the season.
Things started going in favour of NorthEast again as they continued pressing the visitors. In the 13th minute, Arias created a beautiful opportunity for Kamara who shot wide. Five minutes later, however, Kamara did not repeat his mistake and gave NorthEast their second goal of the match. It was another wonderful counter-attack and, this time around, Nico Velez sent in a beauty of a cross for Kamara to slot the ball into the empty net.
Velez was on a different song today as again in the 27th minute he came very close to scoring with a brilliant solo run but tripped right inside the box. Pune City too had their share of chances as in the 29th minute when Regan Sign fouled Adrian Mutu on the right wing and also injured himself. The free-kick that resulted was put very clinically for Mutu, but he headed it just inches out.
Andre Bikey then gave the home team a comfortable two-goal cushion right before half-time. A foul by Govin in the 42nd minute on Velez earned himself a card. Arias took the free kick in the absence of Simao which Bikey headed comfortably into the net.
The first half ended much to the joy of the home fans as they sang ‘8 states, 1 United’.
Half-time: NorthEast United 3-1 Pune City
Second Half: Late comeback not enough for Pune City
Pune started the second half with much more composure as they tried making a move. But the adamant NorthEast defence made things really tight at the back. In the 56th minute, Mutu got a little space but he headed the shot high.
On the one hour mark, Pune City got another free-kick right but Mutu’s free kick was deflected off Lopez. NorthEast, meanwhile, continued their counter-attacks, but the impact wasn’t as such as it was in the first half.
NorthEast pushed really hard in the second half as Pune continued to attack. The home team already had three cards by the 74th minute and time was running out for Pune as they needed someone with a decisive touch to bring them back into the match.
Pune eventually got a breakthrough in the 86th minute and it was none other than their marquee player Adrian Mutu who got on the score sheet. The Romanian came dangerously close to scoring time and again and it would have been disappointing had he not scored.
It was another free-kick right in front of the box which Mutu took and this time around he made no mistakes as he fired the ball into the top right corner of the net; a ball which Rehenesh could only stand and watch.
What followed was an anxious nine minutes as NorthEast held on to repeated Pune attacks, which also included a dangerous free kick right at the corner of the box. The otherwise dull second half saw immense excitement towards the end as the extra time did not cease to end for the enchanting audience in the stands.
NorthEast finally had their much needed victory and it will be long wait for the weekend for them as they hope Pune City beat Chennaiyin to ensure a semi-final spot.