High-flying Goa held to a 1-1 draw by gritty NorthEast United
The last match of Matchweek 12 of the Indian Super League saw Goa and NorthEast United play out a thrilling 1-1 draw in Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium. Carlos Martinez gave the Gaurs a lead before Jithin MS equalized for the Highlanders.
NorthEast United head coach Juan Pedro Benali made two changes to the team that drew 1-1 against Bengaluru. Gani Nigam and Parthib Gogoi were handed starts, with Phalguni Singh and Nestor Albiach making way for them.
On the other hand, Goa coach Manolo Marquez Roca was forced to make one change to the team that defeated Mohun Bagan Super Giant 4-1. In Victor Rodriguez’s absence, who has been ruled out of the campaign with an injury, was replaced by Martinez.
With the home crowd cheering for them, the Highlanders had the better start, with their first attempt coming in only the second minute. Gogoi launched a strike from a distance but it was saved by Arshdeep Singh under Goa’s goal.
The next few minutes were cagey with no real openings, until the Gaurs broke the deadlock in the 20th minute. After a free-kick from the right flank was cleared, the ball was recycled into the left flank, from where Noah Sadaoui launched a brilliant cross. Of all people, Martinez jumped the highest and beat his marker Mohammed Ali Bemammer to get a powerful header.
While the Highlanders’ goalkeeper Mirshad Michu managed to get a hand on the ball, it was not enough to prevent the ball from rolling into the back of the net gifting the Spaniard his first goal of the season from open play since his goal in the team’s season opener against Punjab.
The intensity of NorthEast United’s attack increased further after conceding. In the 24th minute, Gogoi found himself in space again but launched his shot into the night sky. However, it did not matter as the equalizer came just two minutes later.
From a counter-attack, Gogoi darted down the right flank before launching a cross into the box. Jithin made a clever run to split the two-man defensive line of Odei Onaindia and Seriton Fernandes to find himself in acres of space and then did just about enough to guide the ball past Arshdeep.
The pendulum swung again as Goa launched attacks after their lead was wiped out, and one of those attacks could easily have restored their cushion. In the 37th minute, Carl McHugh pulled the trigger from outside the box and did well to keep his shot on target, but Mirshad made a diving save to make amends for the first goal.
The next few minutes saw the Gaurs squander one opportunity after another. Udanta Singh headed his attempt wide despite being unchallenged, while just before half-time, a ball from the right flank found Brandon Fernandes completely unmarked. Fortunately for the Highlanders, Dinesh Singh made a crucial sliding tackle to save the day for his team.
That still was not the last chance of the half, as Martinez, Sadaoui, and Jay Gupta had chances in the dying minutes, but all of them had their attempts blocked.
Goa managed to carry the momentum forward into the second half and had a chance in the 54th minute. After receiving a pass from Martinez, Sadaoui struck a shot on target, but Mirshad was on the money yet again for the hosts.
The Moroccan attacker was pulling the strings from everywhere for the Gaurs but was missing the clinical edge. In the 62nd minute, he tried his luck from outside the box again, but his shot was not on target.
Over the next few minutes, both coaches made plenty of changes to turn the tides in favour of their team, but to no avail. One of Roca’s substitutes, Muhammed Nemil could have made the difference in the 84th minute when he received a pass from Gupta and found himself in space, but his shot was saved by Arshdeep.
While Goa created the majority of the chances in the second half, NorthEast United could have secured three points in the additional time. A quick counter saw Manvir Singh finding Gogoi with a pass, but the latter was wayward this time, as he was throughout the match.
The last chance of the game came in the 97th minute, with Brandon launching a shot from the centre of the box. But his attempt was blocked, as NorthEast United defenders ensured they walked away with a deserving point.
This draw means Goa could not reclaim their top position, and they are now stuck in second place with 24 points from 10 matches with the ISL taking a one-month break for the AFC Asian Cup and the Super Cup.
The Gaurs will now take on an I-League team in their first Super Cup match on 12th January, while NorthEast United is sixth with 12 points from as many matches, will take on Jamshedpur in the Super Cup on 10th January.