NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali commended the performance of his players, especially the young talents, despite his team succumbing to a 3-1 defeat against Mohun Bagan Super Giant at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.

Deepak Tangri, Jason Cummings, and Subhasish Bose all found the back of the net for the Mariners as they extended their dream unbeaten run, securing 19 points from seven matches. NorthEast United FC began the game on a positive note, taking the initial lead within the first five minutes, courtesy of a stunner from Konsam Phalguni Singh. However, the visitors came back strongly and headed into the halftime break with a 2-1 lead in their favour. A red card for Tondonba Singh in the second half further dimmed the Highlanders' chances of making a comeback in the game.

Benali acknowledged that the result could have been different if they had managed to keep the scoreline at either 1-0 or 1-1 by the end of the first half. However, the Spaniard expressed pride in his players' efforts and work rate against the strong opposition.

“If we (could) finish the first half with a 1-0 or 1-1 (scoreline), it could've been a different game,” Benali stated in the post-match press conference.

“We played against a very, very big team (Mohun Bagan Super Giant). And we said that until we stayed with ten players, there was not much difference between the two teams. Then we cannot rush and be hard on the players. I'm really proud (of my players). In some moments of the game, we were looking very, very well. But this is the price we need to pay. We need to pay the price of (being) new. We need to pay the price of innocence that you don't kill (the game). But this is the difference between Mohun Bagan Super Giant and us,” he continued.

The Highlanders' custodian, Mirshad Michu, did not perform at his best against Mohun Bagan Super Giant. Even in Tangri's equalizing goal for the Mariners, there was an unforced mistake from Michu that cost his side a one-goal lead. The Kerala-born goalkeeper has been facing difficulties in the last couple of matches.

Speaking in context, Benali said: “If we compare his performance with last season, this season he (Mirshad Michu) has improved a lot. He made a mistake that cost us. A striker makes a mistake; we don't see it. A goalkeeper stops ten balls but makes one mistake; we all point to him with a finger. This is the life of goalkeepers. We have no choice. That's what we need to play with."

Parthib Gogoi and Asheer Akhtar were unable to play against the Mariners due to injury and suspension, respectively. However, Benali was delighted with the performance of his young players and had a lot of praise for Macarton Louis Nickson, Huidrom Thoi Singh, and Konsam Phalguni Singh.

“The young ones did a great job. In the first half, one marking mistake (led to the goal) and another (was) a goalkeeper’s mistake, (these) cost us two goals. Except for that, we were winning set pieces, winning in midfield, attacking from the flanks, and pressing them. They cannot find out how to play. Proud of Macarton Louis Nickson, Huidrom Thoi Singh, Konsam Phalguni Singh, everybody. They did a great job,” he concluded.