High-flying Pune stand in the way of NorthEast’s maiden play-off dreams

NorthEast United FC will go into their penultimate match of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 on Wednesday with an aim to seal their qualification in the play-offs. The Highlanders will, however, have to beat an in-form FC Pune City side to ensure they progress beyond the league stages for the first time in the club’s history. With the match being played at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, Eelco Schattorie’s side will have the home crowd backing them up during the crucial fixture.

NorthEast United FC

Despite putting up some memorable performances in the Hero ISL over the last four seasons, NorthEast are the only team among the original eight sides in the league to have never qualified for the semi-finals. The Highlanders did come close back in 2016 but faltered in the final stages and failed to make the cut. Schattorie and Co. will look to avoid the same fate this season and hope to secure their spot in the top four with a match to spare. With just three points needed to ensure they go through, a win on Wednesday will be enough to get them over the finish line.

The Highlanders only recently arrested their late-season falter with a 2-0 win over fellow play-off hopefuls Mumbai City FC and will look to use the momentum against Pune. Bartholomew Ogbeche has been the centrepiece of Schattorie’s plans this season and the 34-year-old striker has already scored a whopping 12 goals so far, just two less than the Golden Boot frontrunner Ferran Corominas of FC Goa. Wednesday’s match will be a golden opportunity for the Nigerian to catch up with Coro and in the process, help his team to victory. January signing Panagiotis Triadis has been impressive on the wings in the few matches he has played in so far. The two along with Federico Gallego and Rowllin Borges, who has thrived in Schattorie’s system this season, will be the key players for NorthEast in the match.

An injury to Mislav Komorski did undermine the Highlanders’ defence after the winter break and with the Croatian defender out for the remainder of the season, the management has taken steps to fill the void with the addition of Colombian defender Janeiler Rivas. Whether or not the new recruit has a role to play against the Stallions remains to be seen.

Here are the stats from NorthEast’s season so far:

FC Pune City

After a disappointing first half of the season, the Stallions have undergone an incredible transformation and are unbeaten in five matches, three of which have been under new head coach Phil Brown. The Englishman’s impact on the team has been tangible and under him, the Stallions have been one of the most entertaining sides to watch.

On the back of an incredible 4-1 victory over Jamshedpur FC last week, the Stallions will have an extra spring in their gallop going into Wednesday’s match. Robin Singh and Marcelo Pereira have been in scintillating form in front of the goal of late. While Robin has scored three goals in his last two matches, Marcelo has pitched in with five goals in his last five outings. The Brazilian, however, will miss Wednesday's match due to the accumulation of yellow cards. Marcelo will certainly be a big miss for Pune, but defender Matt Mills coming back from injury will help soften the blow a bit.

Under Brown, Adil Khan seems to be getting back to his best and has started showing glimpses of the form which made him so devastatingly effective last season. The midfield destroyer was relatively quiet in the first half of the campaign but has improved exponentially since Brown came on board.

Here’s a look at Pune’s current season in numbers:

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

NorthEast United FC: Pawan Kumar (GK), Reagan Singh, Mato Grgic, Gurwinder Singh, Keegan Pereira, Jose Leudo, Rowllin Borges, Federico Gallego, Panagiotis Triadis, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Bartholomew Ogbeche (C)

FC Pune City: Kamaljit Singh (GK/C), Matt Mills, Martin Diaz, Sahil Panwar, Sarthak Golui, Adil Khan, Marko Stankovic, Ashique Kuruniyan, Diego Carlos, Robin Singh, Iain Hume

DID YOU KNOW?

  • NorthEast are unbeaten in their last 5 home matches (2 wins and 3 draws).
  • Pune have won their last three away matches in a row.
  • Ogbeche has taken most number of shots at goal this season (70).

FANSPEAK

Which striker will get on the scoresheet on Wednesday?

  • Bartholomew Ogbeche
  • Robin Singh

Have your say in the comments section below.

Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV at 7.30 PM.

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