NorthEast United FC season review: Not much to cheer in an injury-stricken season

High hopes engulfed NorthEast United FC fans after their miraculous turnaround in the previous Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season, having made their second-ever semi-final appearance in the Hero ISL. Khalid Jamil, the mastermind who was deputed at the driving wheel midway through the season, was given complete charge of the club on a full-time basis.

Despite having quality on the roster, constant injuries at critical junctures meant they could only field a crippled team most times, which eventually hurt them dear. Going along the season, they picked up only three wins and gave away a lot of matches from winning positions to finish at the 10th position in the league table.

Record

Pl-20, W-3, D-5, L-12

Positives

The Highlanders collected seven points in their first seven matches, which was not as disastrous on paper. They were subject to a huge slump soon after, failing to win in their next 10 matches and literally quashed their hopes of a semi-final finish. A win over Bengaluru FC towards the end of the season was nothing more than a consolation.

Apart from the wins, the 3-3 draw against Mumbai City FC was a memorable event in the more or less dull season for NorthEast United FC. The performances of players like Pragyan Gogoi, Imran Khan, Suhair VP and Joe Zoherliana occasionally generated sparks, but it hardly materialised into match winning situations.

Negatives

It becomes difficult to point out one negative aspect from their season, but the defence has been the most disappointing by far. The Highlanders conceded 43 goals, which is the worst record this season alongside Odisha FC. On the other hand, they finished with a goal difference of -18, also the joint worst, sharing the wooden spoon with Chennaiyin FC and SC East Bengal.

Inconsistency has been their biggest drawback, as they struggled to maintain a similar tempo to be able to create goal scoring opportunities quite often. Meanwhile, there have been seven instances where the Highlanders have lost by a one-goal margin, which proves they had been making the right moves, but somehow it did not click for them.

Best player

Deshorn Brown

It was an easy pick, considering the impact the striker had on the team whenever he played. Plagued by injuries, he managed to take the field in 12 matches the season. In the limited time frame, the Jamaican footballer unleashed his talent and forced everyone to take notice of him with seven goals, even though his valiant efforts could not inspire his team to more than three wins in the entire season. But, there’s no reason why the Highlanders should not retain him for another year.

Best young player

Joe Zoherliana

There’s no denying that the kid has some spark in him, despite playing just nine matches in the league. Apart from the playmaking duties, the footballer has made significant contributions in the defence as well, having made 31 tackles, 14 clearances and 17 blocks in the matches he’s played in the Hero ISL 2021-22. It was a great uplift from the last season, where he didn’t play even a single minute for Bengaluru FC.

What they need next season?

Reinforcement in the defence for sure with foreign centre-backs, to provide solidity and much needed support to Indian players like Provat Lakra, Mashoor Shereef and Mohamed Irshad. With Khassa Camara flocking for greener pastures, the think tank also needs to recruit a central midfielder to fill the void.

Even if Brown is kept further, an attacking footballer will be required to provide extra teeth in the final third, given that Marcelinho cannot be fielded alongside the Jamaican due to the foreign quota restrictions. In short, many tweaks are necessary for NorthEast United FC to stage a comeback in the Hero ISL 2022-23.

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