FULL-TIME: Bengaluru FC 2-1 Northeast United FC
Bengaluru FC: 14′ Mislav Komorski (Own Goal); 71′ Chencho Gyeltshen (Assist: Juanan).
Northeast United FC: 60′ Federico Gallego (Assist: Robert Lalthlamuana).
Northeast United cycled through a catalogue of chances, but failed to finish off Bengaluru FC at the Kanteerava tonight.
Bengaluru FC started the game with more energy than in the defeat against Mumbai City FC. With Xisco out injured, Bengaluru played Chhetri upfront and Udanta and Kean Lewis manning the wings. A three-man midfield was the norm today with Dimas Delgado playing alongside Erik Paartalu and Harmanjot Khabra.
A smart training ground move from a free kick awarded to Bengaluru FC more than 40 yards out resulted in a goal for the hosts in the 14th minute. The free-kick delivery found Sunil Chhetri who passed it to Udanta who was in acres of space in the box. The 22-year-old Manipuri winger squared the ball across the goal mouth and the NEUFC defender Mislav Komorski thumped the ball into his own net while attempting to clear the ball.
Trailing by a goal, the Highlanders upped the ante. The NEUFC wide players and fullbacks looked threatening and and Gallego’s passing and delivery from set-pieces meant a goal for the Highlanders looked ominous as the teams went into the half-time break.
The second half saw the return of familiar failings in the Bengaluru defence. Due to lack of pace and Bengaluru persisting with playing a high line, a simple ball over them or a ball in space around them saw the Bengaluru center-backs struggling to cope.
Northeast United had a shout out for a penalty denied after Gurpreet Singh Sandhu brought down Ogbeche early in the second half. Finally, Northeast got their due when in the 60th minute, Juanan failed to deal with an aerial ball in the box and let it drop down – Gallego pounced and slid the ball between the keepers’ legs to level the scores.
More chances fell for the Highlanders as the game went on. Rino Anto was trying to play new NEUFC signing Panagiotis Triadis offside only to be left dragging his feet as the Greek forward saw himself in a 1v1 situation against Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Gurpreet prevailed to deny Northeast again.
The Blues brought in the Bhutanese forward Chencho for Kean Lewis. Chencho had scored against Northeast United in stoppage time to salvage a draw in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. In the 71st minute, a long throw in to the box from Rahul Bheke met the head of Juanan who glanced the ball near the far post. Chencho who was the right place at the right time slid in to get the winner for the Blues. This was Bengaluru FC’s first and only shot on target in the entire match.
For the most part, NEUFC have only themselves to blame for not getting a win tonight. Ogbeche had a cluster of chances to convert – free headers, 1v1 situations – in fact the league’s second highest scorer had chances worth at least a couple of games tonight. The Bengaluru and Indian International Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made 10 saves in the game and was rightly adjudged man of the match.
Northeast United’s defeat tonight means FC Goa (2 points behind) and Jamshedpur FC (3 points behind) are hot on their heels. Both the teams have games in hand and if they capitalise, it could mean the Highlanders go out of the top 4 come next week.
For Bengaluru, the win tonight propels them to the top of the table again after a brief interlude where Mumbai City were on top. There is talk of Miku returning in the next fixture against Kerala Blasters on Feb 6 in what will be a much-needed boost for the Blues.