NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali expressed his disappointment after his team suffered a defeat against Chennaiyin FC by a 2-1 scoreline in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Tuesday.

A lot was at stake for both teams, who were desperate and determined to secure none but all three points in order to keep their playoff dreams alive. All three goals were scored in the second half as Chennaiyin FC bounced back to beat the Highlanders

The Highlanders broke the deadlock with Jithin MS in the 49th minute, capitalising on Chennaiyin FC’s defender Sarthak Golui’s unforced error. However, Owen Coyle’s men held their nerves to turn things around on their home turf, as they became the first team to register a comeback win in their three games on the trot.

The hosts scored the equaliser in a fashionable way when Aakash Sangwan scored an Olympic goal in the 72nd minute, becoming the first Indian and sixth overall player to do so in the ISL. Like Sangwan, another full-back, Ankit Mukherjee, put his name on the scoresheet in the most decisive moment with his precise right-footed, grounded strike that secured all three points for Chennaiyin FC. The result has left them in a favorable position to qualify for playoff with Chennaiyin FC just needed a draw in their final game against FC Goa to secure that position.

Benali acknowledged that both he and Coyle had the same objective in the game, which was to get three points. However, the Spaniard appreciated Chennaiyin FC’s performance and wished them luck following their defeat in Chennai.

“I think the fans and everybody else saw a very nice game, but it was not so nice for the coaches because it was full of ups and downs. We approached the game more calmly. It was a beautiful game, the final game for us,” Benali said in the post-match press conference.

“We spoke before the game that ‘If we draw, we do nothing (to help ourselves reach the playoffs)’. Even Owen Coyle mentioned the same, about which we were laughing. Both of us didn’t go for a draw and went for the win. Congratulations to Chennaiyin FC; they deserved it. I hope they will do very well in the playoffs,” he added.

Both teams had to win the game at any cost to continue their chase for qualification. Benali felt that a draw could be a fair result in terms of how the game went forward.

“In football, sometimes you win, lose, or draw. Sometimes, football is unfair. A draw could be a fair result for today’s performance, but it was not helpful for any of us,” he commented.

The NorthEast United FC head coach praised his players for the performances they displayed throughout the season, overcoming all the difficulties and hardships. However, Benali urged his men to end the season on a positive note with a solid performance against Odisha FC in Guwahati on Saturday.

“For us, we have to keep working, head up, be proud of the players for what they did, and look forward to the next season,” he stated.

“We are still making some mistakes, but this football. If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t reach your goal. But, now, to finish the final game well against Odisha FC is the most important thing for us,” he signed off.