As the winter chill starts to fade against the setting sun you can still feel the nip in the air inside the training base of our warriors in Guwahati as the boys begin to train under the watchful eyes of our Gaffer. Intermittently, a loud noise erupts “Find a solution”. Today’s match was all about finding “a solution” faced with adversity as our playoff charge was starting to fade slightly after dropping points against Bengaluru and Delhi.
A solution at every part of the pitch and at every situation, be it defending, attacking, when we had the ball, or even when we lost the ball, we regrouped as a legion on the coasts to launch a scathing attack on the Islanders to add three crucial points to our war chest.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. A similar story unfolded at the Arena as the Islanders were forced to surrender without a fight. Capitalizing on the fact that key players were missing in the Mumbai backline, the Highlanders attacked from the start where the chink in the Mumbai City FC's armour was.
Repeatedly using the width with Pana and Puitea from the wings, the Highlanders plundered the Islanders defence and turned the arena into a magical freak show.
It didn’t take us long to strike the first blow as Keegan Pereira charged down the left and put in an intelligent cutback into the box to the path of Rowllin who beautifully side-footed it into the top corner to give us an early lead just four minutes into the game.
The home side had an opportunity to equalize after Arnold played back to Bastos who found himself in good space. He took his time to aim at goal, but the effort was denied by the cross piece as we had an early sigh of relief.
With the confidence of having scored an early goal, we started to play our usual build-up play orchestrated by the Gallego-Borges midfield and things started to look ominous for the hosts from the start.
Pana continued his creative work on the left channel after he collected the ball near the far post from a Federico Gallego free-kick and chipped to Rowllin in the six-yard box. But the close-range header went straight into the hands of Amrinder.
In the first 15 minutes, the Highlanders forced continuous pressure with the trio of Pana, Bart and Gallego lingering in the attacking third, keeping Mumbai’s backline on their toes.
We stayed organized and maintained shape which did not allow Mumbai to execute their rotational play while making the transition in their own half trying to feed Arnold Issoko with a long ball from deep.
Makeshift left back, Vignesh D struggled to contain the creative work of Gallego and Puitea down the left channel in the absence of Subhasis Bose was capitalized by Reagan’s run down the right as he had acres of space to put in a dangerous ball that deflected off Bart’s knees to give us a 2-0 lead in the 33rd minute.
Pana sizzled with the ball from the start and showed his party tricks down the left to leave Rafiq bedazzled but as has been his luck so far in the tournament, the ball crashed against the post to deny the wing magician his first goal for the Highlanders.
With a tremendous dominating display of attacking football in the first 45, we went into the break with a two-goal cushion and raring to go for the next half.
Back in the second half, for the first 15 minutes, we played a composed and consolidated defensive shape to contain the Islanders as we controlled the game with flair and fluidity at both ends of the park.
Going for a tactical switch in order to enhance the goal advantage, our Coach threw in Juan Mascia for Pana which allowed Puitea to slot back to his natural left-wing role.
Ww controlled the game in the middle of the park as the home sides’ long ball strategy to find Arnold or Sougou failed to have any impact on the game.
Redeem was later introduced in place of Gallego deep into the game and had a glorious opportunity to put the game to bed in the dying minutes but his shot narrowly missed the target.
A game of tactical twitches, the home team outscored, outpassed and outsung – their night culminated into a submissive 2-o defeat as we amassed three important points to climb up to second place on the league table with 27 points based on head to head records.
As the Playoff confirmation starts to shimmer on the horizon, the Highlanders get battle ready for their final home game in the league stages as we face FC Pune City on 20th of February at Guwahati.
Mumbai City FC 0
NorthEast United FC 2
4’ Rowllin Borges
33’ Bartholomew Ogbeche