FC Goa take on NorthEast United FC with no scope for error

FC Goa currently occupy the last playoff spot but have a chance to apply pressure on Odisha FC in fifth with three points as they prepare to face NorthEast United FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Sunday. The Gaurs are only three points ahead of Chennaiyin FC in seventh and will be eager to extend that gap against the Highlanders who faced an unfortunate defeat last time around.

NorthEast United FC were on the verge of claiming their fourth point of the season before conceding a last-gasp goal against Bengaluru FC last week. Despite a hard-fought battle with the Blues, the Highlanders fell to their 12th defeat of the season.

Romain Philippoteaux scored his second goal of the season last week, while Wilmar Jordan fired a blank for the second successive game after scoring in three straight games before that. Head coach Vincenzo Annese will be expecting creativity and goals from both of them and also from Emil Benny, who has two assists this season.

At the other end of the pitch, Mirshad Michu has featured in eight games between the sticks. The shot-stopper has produced a total of 45 saves this season. No other goalkeeper has matched this tally. (Club statistics)

“It will be a very difficult game because they [FC Goa] are one of the teams that possess quality. [Edu] Bedia is one of the most experienced players in the league and is the key behind this team. Another good player is Noah [Sadaoui], who makes good runs behind the striker. He has caused problems for several teams in the past,” said Annese. “I hope tomorrow we can put in a better performance compared to last week.”

FC Goa were up against the defending champions Hyderabad FC last week. The game was all square heading into the final ten minutes when Bartholomew Ogbeche scored a hat-trick to hand the Gaurs their sixth defeat of the season.

Head coach Carlos Pena fielded what was probably his strongest possible eleven last week but could not keep the Hero ISL’s all-time top-scorer at bay. The Spaniard could make a couple of changes to the team this weekend, with striker Alvaro Vazquez among the options.

However, that would involve benching some of his more in-form attackers like Noah Sadaoui, who has ten goal contributions in 13 games for FC Goa so far, or Iker Guarrotxena who has scored five goals this season. (Club statistics)

“The remaining games of the season are like finals for us. We want to be in the top six and want to win games, including this one. We will try to get three points,” said Pena. “They [NEUFC] have improved a lot since the arrival of the new coach. They have signed new players and are playing better compared to the start of the season. They have beaten ATK, against whom most teams have struggled. So tomorrow will be a tough game,” he added.

The two sides have met 17 times in the Hero ISL. The Gaurs have won six times, while the Highlanders have won just thrice. Eight games have ended in draws. In the reverse fixture last month, FC Goa beat NorthEast United 2-1 at the Fatorda Stadium. (Hero ISL standings)

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