We, the people, from the mini-republic of Highlands, are jubilant, exuberant, ecstatic (add some more fancy words to express how we are feeling right now) tonight! On the 72nd Republic Day, the Highlanders got the better of the Mariners in a 2-1 victory that pushes them ever so closer to the fourth position. Breathing down Hyderabad FC's neck, NEUFC went ahead under the tutelage of Khalid Jamil to put up a fight against the Champions ATKMB.
The Mariners did not have much more than the AFC spot at stake when they came into this match. Whereas North-East United had their eyes set on the play-off spot and were desperate to stamp their mark. The game started off on an even note for both the teams with Khalid's men looking to establish a gameplay with an identity, with the ball being passed around the pitch quite confidently, against an ATKMB side that is an ever-present threat on the counter. The press resistant Apuia had another scintillating game in the middle of the park alongside Khassa Camara. The former covered the most distance on the ground and looked better than his age when on the ball.
With nothing much to draw from the first half, the major talking point was how brilliant Federico Gallego was with his delicate touch and ambitious passing. Deshorn Brown, who scored in the previous match got his first start and came close to scoring in the 39th minute when he latched onto a ball from Suhair to chest it down and flick it only for the ball to skim past the crossbar.
Gallego and Machado linked up pretty well in the first half, with a good defensive display from Mashoor and Nim Dorjee as well, the latter getting the first outing of this season.
While the first half was cagey and Prabir Das probably getting the best chance to score off Krishna's low cross, the second half saw the game open up. Gallego and Machado looked in mood as both were pushing to create chances and pin down the ATKMB defence. They were rightly rewarded when a misplaced pass cum clearance hit Fede who slid Machado through on goal, only for the Portuguese to shove Tiri away and calmly finish past Arindam. The away side was however furious for not getting a foul out of it as the linesman had raised the flag. The referee however was not amused and the goal was given. 1-0!
The first goal opened the game up even more and North-East had another major chance to double their lead when Mashoor headed the ball over from a well-worked corner. That sure looked like a leaf out of the tactical drills. This guy had another solid game after a shaky start in his previous one. His tackling, heading and recovery were spot on.
Roy Krishna however got his 4th goal in as many appearances against us to level the score at the 72nd minute. While North-East pushed harder to get a winner, the injection of freshness in Charra and Sylla shook ATKMB who were wary of North-East's attacking intent.
And then behold the King of the Highlands, Federico Gallego Revetria. EL Magico received the ball from a forward-moving Charra to bend it around the defence and Sylla right into the inside of the post. Not even two Amrinders can save them, let alone just one Arindam.
Oh the unbelievable , eh? Everything seemed holy at that moment.
The 14 players gave their all. Khalid outclassed Habas in his own game, and opening up an opportunity to slide into top 4.
Only downside of the match would be Fox's hamstring. But Lambot's return has given a much-needed solidity and experience at the back. Nim Dorjee had a very good game as well, with important interventions and a goal-line block towards the end. Manveer's arrival did create some issues for him, but without much of a match fitness, him fading out a bit during the game is understandable.
Up next is another major game against the table-toppers and high flying Mumbai City FC.
Another brave, cohesive performance would give us a great opportunity to turn this season around.
Up the Highlanders
We Walk Through This Together