Trailing by four goals and a man down at half time, NorthEast United FC were staring at a humbling defeat against Mumbai City FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Mumbai Football Arena. Mumbai City FC continued to dominate the game after the break, but to their credit, the Highlanders didn’t concede any further goals. Marshalling the defence at the back, NorthEast United FC centre-back Aaron Evans was instrumental in helping his side stave off the threat from the home side in the second half. That second-half performance was one of the positives for NEUFC that evening, despite their 13th defeat of the season.

Under head coach Vincenzo Annese, there have been many such positives for the Highlanders after failing to open their tally eight games into the season. Evans has been an ever-present figure in NorthEast United FC’s lineup, playing 14 of the 15 games so far. Possessing an aerial threat from set-pieces, the 28-year-old has also been deployed as a full-back and defensive midfielder this season. Evans has two goals this season, making him the joint-highest scoring defender with Bengaluru FC's Alan Costa.

He caught up with after the game against Mumbai City FC, where he spoke about NorthEast United FC’s season, head coach Annese, his time in India so far, and more.

Here are the excerpts:

It’s been a tough season for NorthEast United FC. What does the team need to do to lift itself from the bottom position?

It’s definitely been a difficult season for NorthEast United FC. None of us expected this. We’re putting in the hours, putting in the work in the training ground, but it’s not clicking for us on matchdays. Whether that is all the changes that we have this season or something else, at the end of the day, that’s all excuses. When we are on the pitch, we’ve got to work hard and put in the effort to get the results. No matter what’s going on the field, the 11 players and the substitutes have to do something about it, and we’re not. So we have ourselves to blame.

What changes have you seen in the team since Vincenzo Annese has come in?

All coaches have their own playing style, but Vincenzo has shifted things in a positive way. We have got the players to play an aggressive attacking and defensive game. Vincenzo has highlighted to us that it’s our quality and we got to use that and we have to continue to use that. We might not have the technical quality as other teams, but we do have that aggression and hunger. Like I said, we need to be disciplined for that whole game, and we can’t switch on and switch off because we get punished too easily.

You have scored twice this season. Is that something you look to add to your game?

As a defender, it's always nice to score. I have scored two goals here, and it’s an amazing achievement for me. But at the end of the day, I am a defender, and I want to stop the goals. I also want to contribute by scoring goals because that is going to help my teammates and motivate them. It’s a bonus (scoring goals), but I am focused on the defensive side and sharpening that up because that's what’s going to get me a contract next season. The goals will help, but the defensive side of it is going to get me over the line for next season.

What’s the mindset of the team going into the remaining games of the season?

It’s very difficult, but we just take it game by game. We know that it seems unlikely (to make it to the playoffs), but that doesn't mean we have to give up. And for what. We are professionals, and we’re all playing for a contract next season. Individually, we’ve got to play for pride, for ourselves, and also for the pride of the team. We’ve got to get some results, we’ve got to score goals. Internally, we’ve got to enjoy the rest of the season and make sure the fans enjoy it as well. 

Overall, how would you describe your time in India so far?

I’ve loved India personally. I came here without knowing much about the Hero ISL, but I have loved every moment of being here. Everything—the fans, the facilities, the staff, the players—has been incredible. I’m looking forward to potentially continuing my journey next season here in India as well.

It’s been a difficult season not only for the club, but for the fans as well. What is your message for the supporters?

We appreciate their support. We all know it’s difficult to support a losing team. But we as players are not giving up, so hopefully they (fans) don’t give up on us. We are going to give our best for the rest of the season, and we hope they continue supporting us as well.