NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali expressed satisfaction as they edged past East Bengal FC with a 3-2 scoreline in Matchweek 14 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday. 

The Highlanders kicked the game off in style with Australian forward Tomi Juric finding the back of the net within four minutes from kickoff to give his team the lead. In the next 10 minutes, Spanish forward Nestor Albiach doubled the lead for NorthEast United FC making it 2-0 within the opening 15 minutes of the match. 

Although the Red and Gold Brigade livened up the game in the second half through a goal from Nandhakumar Sekar, Juric doubled his tally soon after to restore NorthEast United FC's two-goal lead. East Bengal FC once again reduced their deficit through Felicio Forbes but eventally fell short in the end. The result lifted the Highlanders to the sixth position in the league table.  

Having been winless in their past eight ISL games, NorthEast United FC finally returned back to winning ways. Benali was happy for the vicrory and dedicated it to the fans. 

“Well, it's gone exactly how we thought it would go. We stopped East Bengal FC’s way of playing. We changed the game plan for them, and they found it hard. It's a great team with very good players, a great coach also, and well, I'm very happy. This is the game our fans were waiting for since Durand Cup. And we give it to them, that’s for them. You know it's important for us, all the players are very happy, proud that our fans can sleep very well. But well, don't sleep tonight, just dream with this game. Could have been more goals but well, this is how it is,” stated Benali in the post-match press conference. 

New signing Juric was the star of the evening, scoring a brace on his debut. His second goal was a delight as he curled his shot brilliantly into the far corner, leaving the keeper with no chance. But despite his heroics, Benali chose to give credit to the entire team.  

Not only Tomi Juric, you know, who gave the ball to Tomi Juric, who won the ball to give it to Tomi Juric, who fights defensively, the goalkeeper. Everybody, you know, the players who didn't play, the players were training very hard to make their teammates better and really, the staff, media, everybody in the club, even the people who take care of the field. It's not only one single player who changed the game. It's everyone. Everyone, the physios, the doctors, you know, everybody works for this. And Tommy is the image we can say. But behind that image there's a lot of work,” Benali expressed.

Sharing his philosophy on objectives ahead, Benali said: “We are NorthEast United FC, working. Our objective is clear, and that is to develop and prepare. If we go to the playoffs, fantastic. If we don't go, we will still be working and preparing everything for next season, that's for sure.”

The 54-year-old said he is not thinking about their position in the league table at this moment and revealed he prefers to approach the rest of the season one game at a time.

“I don't look at the positions now. Game. Now, from tomorrow (Sunday), we start thinking for the next game, next game, next game, next game. If you look far away and you forget today you just get totally lost. I prefer just to think next game. We cannot say to look on the back or to look at what the others are doing,” Benali shared.