NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali shared his delight with his players’ performance after his team secured a 2-0 victory against Kerala Blasters FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.

It was all square at the end of the first half, where Benali’s men had the best chances to break the deadlock with Manvir Singh. However, the Highlanders displayed a solid second-half performance, with Nestor Albiach and Jithin M.S. finding the target, sealing all three points for the hosts to continue their chase for playoff qualification.

Michel Zabaco’s long, precise through ball split the Blasters’ defence line and opened the goal for Albiach, who neatly scooped the ball over onrushing Lara Sharma to give his side the initial lead. The Spanish forward also had another opportunity to extend their lead on the counterattack, but Sharma’s double save denied his efforts. However, Jithin MS doubled their lead in added time to secure their fifth win of the season, ending their five-match winless streak.

NorthEast United FC had their chances in the opening quarter to take the lead, but they couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities. However, starting in the second half, Benali’s men began to dominate the game and scored two late goals to clinch a much-needed victory.

"In the first minute, we could've scored. After that, we were a little bit sloppier. It was very hot. We didn’t read the game very well in the first half. But in the second half, everything totally changed,” he said in the post-match press conference.

“The players understood well what was going on, and we controlled the game. We had two or three chances to score in the first half, and in the second half, it was more balanced for us. But, we could have finished the game better,” he continued.

Benali brought in Romain Philippoteaux in place of Hamza Regragui at the one-hour mark to generate offensive moves and open channels between Kerala Blasters FC’s defence line.

Speaking about his substitution, the head coach said, “We knew that Philippoteaux couldn’t play the full game due to his style of play.”

“The match was too tight. We also needed to give Regragui the match time he needs. Many players need minutes; that’s what we are thinking in these games. We knew that Romain would be the best player to open lines against Kerala Blasters FC. And that's what exactly happened," explained the Spaniard.

Following their win against Ivan Vukomanovic’s team, the Highlanders are now placed in the seventh spot, just one point behind sixth-placed Bengaluru FC. Two wins in their remaining two matches will take them through to the playoffs.

Benali urges his players to focus on one game at a time to confirm their qualification.

“We never think about two or three games ahead. Our focus is always on giving our best in the next game. Sometimes, the opposition performs well, or we make silly mistakes due to pressure or inexperience,” he stated.

“But today, we deserved the win, and we deserve to be in the position where we are (now) because we didn’t play bad football and are supposed to be higher (in the table). But at the beginning of the season, nobody believed that we couldn’t reach the playoffs. No one believes that we’ll fight for the playoffs in our last two matches. We are there and for this, we must be proud,” Benali further added.

“I am sure that if we go to the playoffs, we’ll be a tough team to beat, but if we can’t, we will have a very experienced team next season,” he signed off.