Will NorthEast United miss out on a play-off berth again?
Among the eight original clubs in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), NorthEast United FC are the only team who have never made it to the play-off stage. They have had some inspiring victories, they’ve even got off to a solid start in the Hero ISL, but for all their effort and support, NorthEast have never made it to the semi-finals in four attempts. But with their stellar start in the Hero ISL this season, many fans believed that the wait would finally end.
Not anymore. As the race for the play-off heats up, Eelco Schattorie’s men are holding the final play-off ticket - the fourth position in the standings. They have accumulated 23 points from 14 matches, largely thanks to a good start to the season, but amidst fitness concerns and other selection issues, NorthEast have registered only one win in their last six matches. The dip in form is a major concern for the Highlanders going into the business end of the league.
"We need to work very hard and get the results. It’s not that we just need to depend on certain qualities. It’s not easy as you are now in position where it gets difficult to reach your goal having come so close. Now we need to win every game," said Schattorie.
NorthEast United are just below third-placed FC Goa, who have 25 points. With Jamshedpur FC and ATK, both with 20 points each, close on their heels, every point will matter.
"I hope that ATK and Jamshedpur lose all their games, with all due respect. I want the teams below us to lose as the top four will be qualifying for the play-offs," said the Dutch coach.
With two teams breathing down their neck, it has become crucial for NorthEast to win their remaining matches. An aiding factor for them in their final push for the play-offs could be the teams they are facing in their last four fixtures.
Delhi Dynamos FC, Mumbai City FC, FC Pune City and Kerala Blasters FC are up next on the fixture list for NorthEast and it should be noted that apart from Mumbai, the rest of the sides have little or no chance of making it to the play-offs. However, it’s not that the points will be easy to get. As Delhi’s draw against FC Goa on Monday suggested, even the lower-ranked teams will make life difficult for the play-off aspirants.
Can Schattorie do what no other coach has done before with NorthEast? Can they hold on to their play-off ticket, or will they falter in the final few rounds just like the third season? The next four matches hold all the answers.