Odisha FC face NorthEast United FC hurdle for a stake in the playoffs tussle
Odisha FC will face NorthEast United FC in a make-or-break encounter for their playoff hopes in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Friday. Odisha FC and FC Goa are currently level on points, but the latter has the better head-to-head record between the two sides.
This means that Odisha FC cannot afford to drop points if they are to control their own narrative. Last week, they snapped a four-game winless streak against defending champions Hyderabad FC. The victory came at the Kalinga Stadium, which has been a fortress for them this season, where they have lost only once in nine games.
However, for their next challenge against NorthEast United FC, Odisha FC will be on the road to try and defy an away record that is the second-worst for a team this season. The Juggernauts have won only two out nine away games.
They have lost four and drawn one of their last five away games, with their last away win coming in November against East Bengal FC. Going up against such a record, head coach Josep Gombau will be relieved to have Narender Gahlot and Sahil Panwar back from suspension. Up front, Diego Mauricio is expected to retain his spot after scoring his 11th goal of the campaign last week.
“With two games to go, we are fighting to be in the playoffs. For us, it is a must-win game and we cannot miss this opportunity if we want to stay alive in the playoff race,” said Gombau.
“It will be a very difficult game against a team that has improved a lot over the last few weeks. We know we want to get a result here and we are working together to achieve this,” he added.
NorthEast United FC picked up their first away point of the season last week against East Bengal FC in an enthralling 3-3 draw. Sitting at the bottom of the table with only five points, the Highlanders will be looking to end their season on a high as they rebuild ahead of the next one. The game against Odisha FC will be their last one at home this season and head coach Vincenzo Annese will try his best to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
Skipper Wilmar Gil will be back after serving his suspension, but Annese will be without midfielder Pragyan Gogoi and defender Mashoor Shereef for this encounter. Both players picked up their fourth bookings of the season in the last match. Pragyan’s brother, Parthib Gogoi, scored a stunning goal last week and will be in contention to start.
“It is an important game for us as well because we are at a stage where all the players are performing well and we need to finish our last home game with a good result,” said Annese.
“Both sides are coming into this game after positive results. I hope we can make a really positive impact,” he added.
In 17 previous Hero ISL encounters between the two sides, Odisha FC have won seven times, while NorthEast United FC have won five times. The Juggernauts beat the Highlanders 2-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this season. (Hero ISL standings)