It has not been the best of starts for NorthEast United FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season. Their defeat to Jamshedpur FC in matchweek four of the ongoing season saw them become the first Hero ISL side to lose their opening four matches of a season.

While NorthEast United FC have conceded eight goals from their four games so far, they have struggled upfront as well, having scored just once. That goal came from Matt Derbyshire, who will be a key man going forward if NorthEast United FC are to change their fortunes for good.

The Englishman joined the Highlanders in the summer and was touted as one of the key signings for NEUFC this season. Derbyshire has featured in the Premier League besides the top leagues of Greece, Cyprus and Australia with a professional career spanning over 20 years.

However, Derbyshire has not managed to hit the ground running so far this season. And NorthEast United FC's struggles upfront can be linked to Derbyshire’s performances so far this season. The English striker has been handed a start in all of NEUFC’s four games so far, but has found the net just once, which came against East Bengal FC.

The 36-year-old has registered a total of 11 shots across four games so far, but only two have been on target. But in two of the four matches, he has not attempted a single shot on target. With midfielder Romain Philippoteaux out with an injury and Sylvester Igboun also departing the club, the Highlanders will be depending on Derbyshire to spearhead their attack and make the difference.

Boasting creative players such as Jon Gaztanaga, Emil Benny, Jithin MS, Imran Khan in their ranks, the Highlanders have managed to carve out chances in each of their four games, but inefficiency in the final third has hurt them. With Derbyshire now being the focal point in their attack, the Englishman needs to step up if NorthEast United FC are to pull themselves out of this rut.

Derbyshire has a shot accuracy of 18.18% and it is a cause for concern for the Highlanders as all 11 of his shots have been taken from inside the box with an average disatnce of 10.5 metres from goal.

If the Englishman can get his scoring boots on, the picture could look very different for the Guwahati-based club.

“We need to improve in terms of not conceding goals and creating more chances and then converting them,” NorthEast United assistant coach Paul Groves said ahead of their meeting against Kerala Blasters. “But I think one thing - you know the tough times bring about hopefully a tougher mentality. I hope it improves the players.”

With the pressure piling on NorthEast United FC, Marco Balbul’s side need Derbyshire to step up sooner than later. They have played well in patches across games besides creating chances, and will be hope it is just a matter of time before Derbyshire can start firing the goals.