The Highlanders will lock horns with the Mariners in the ‘Eastern Derby’ at Fatorda on Sunday at 1930 hours. After a lustrous start to the campaign, alarm bells have rung for the Men in Red as the style of play and results have gone in the wrong direction. With a victory, the Highlanders will break the mid-table jinx and enter the top four. While with a victory the high flying ATK Mohun Bagan will reach the top of the table. Will the Highlanders deliver against the statistics, the injuries woes and the heavy-weights to earn the valuable three points at this crucial juncture of the league?
Gerard Nus will face a tough test coming into the game on Sunday as the team is outside the top four and is without a victory in the last four games. The team is drilled to play in a structured formation with two lines of defenders and mid-fielders to prevent opposition from scoring and, while going forward trying to capitalize on the chances that they create. Nus believes in a team effort and the team is known for its impressive work-rate. But the lack of finishing touches and the absence of a creative master-mind through the middle has upset and troubled the fans and the management.
In the last game, Gallego proved to be the solution to the creative puzzle for Nus and his substitution before the hour-mark disturbed the balance and tempo of the team. Appiah will not be available for selection for tomorrow’s game due to an injury, and the team will have to be dependent on the likes of Sylla and Suhair to score goals. No changes are expected in the back line of the team, but the defenders surely will try to prevent lapse on concentration at important stages of play. While Apuia and Camara have done their defensive and holding duties, there will be responsibility on the mid-fielders to provide an attacking spark.
"If they concede only three goals in eight games, you know they're doing lots of good things. We'd like to prove those statistics wrong by scoring more goals. In the last game against Odisha, we made a record 18 attempts. That's something we need to feel proud of as no other ISL team has achieved that so far," Nus told, during a pre-match press conference. The gaffer also hinted that the team may be looking for players to sign in the January transfer window.
The Mariners have claimed 17 points from eight matches in the league. The team also has the best defending stats in the league as they have conceded only three goals playing with a back-line of 5 and their kepper Arindam Bhattacharja is leading the defence with 24 saves. The Fijian striker Roy Krishna has scored five goals this season, but has also been in a poor run of form off-late. Antonio Habas does not negotiate when it comes to his defence and he designs his play to be ruthless in counter attacks.
"I would have been worried if we didn't create chances to score but in football; you can do something in one situation and cannot do that in another. In football, all situations are different during the 90 minutes," Habas said ahead of their match in the conference. Habas focused on the collective aspect of the game, and will be looking to showcase a dominating performance after their goalless draw in their last game.
The two teams have clashed 12 times in the ISL, with the Highlanders winning only three. The Men in Red will have to be firing all cylinders to break the impassable ATK Mohun Bagan defence. North East did not feature in the last round, and the Highlander Brigade after waiting for what felt like an eternity will be hoping for all three points from the well rested team. In the opening game of 2021, we predict a victory for the Highlanders with a score-line of 2-1