Odisha strengthens playoff hopes with a 3-1 win over NorthEast United

Odisha is now positioned comfortably to make it to the next round

Odisha handed themselves a huge boost in terms of their top six hopes in the 2022-23 Indian Super League season, as they handed NorthEast United a 3-1 defeat here in Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium. 

Nandhakumar Sekar, Victor Rodrigues, and Diego Mauricio scored the three goals for the Kalinga Warriors, while Wilmar Jordan was the lone goal-scorer for the Highlanders.

NorthEast United head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese made three changes to the team that drew 3-3 against East Bengal in the last fixture. Hira Mondal, Gani Nigam, and Jordan were handed starts, with Mashoor Shereef, Pragyan Gogoi, and Romain Philippoteux getting dropped.

On the other hand, despite beating defending champions Hyderabad by a 3-1 margin in the last match, Odisha head coach Josep Gambau made two changes to his starting XI. Narender Gehlot and Sahil Panwar were handed starts at the expense of Shubham Sarangi and Denechandra Meitei.

NorthEast United showed urgency from the start and had their first attempt in the third minute when Jithin MS let fly a shot from the left flank. However, his effort did not trouble Odisha’s goalkeeper, Amrinder Singh.

The Kalinga Warriors had their first chance in the 10th minute and it was an opportunity from where they could easily have scored. Aaron Evans made a mess of Nandhakumar Sekar’s cross and the ball fell for Pedro Martin, who could not guide his shot on target.

The next few minutes were all about keeping control of the ball for Odisha, as they failed to create clear-cut openings. The next chance arrived just after the half-hour mark when Gambau’s team was awarded a free-kick from a dangerous position. Saul Crespo showed the presence of mind to take it quickly and find Martin unmarked, but the Atletico Madrid graduate’s attempt was wayward this time around as well.

But the miss did not matter much, as the opening goal eventually came in the 36th minute. After receiving a pass from Raynier Fernandes, Panwar found Nandhakumar with a pass at the edge of the box. The winger had a sea of defenders in front of him but somehow managed to beat them and the Highlanders’ custodian, Arindam Bhattacharja with a powerful shot.

The visitors then had the chance of doubling their advantage in the first half itself. Isak Vanlalruatfela found himself in space down the left flank and had an attempt on goal, but this time, Bhattacharja was up to the task.

Odisha had the better start to the second half, but the first major chance came to NorthEast United in the 57th minute. Parthib Gogoi tried to launch a cross, but a mishit converted it into an attempt on target and caught Amrinder cold-footed. However, the goalkeeper did well to re-adjust himself quickly and parry the ball away.

It turned out to be a vital save as the Kalinga Warriors doubled their advantage in the 65th minute. Coming on as a substitute, Rodriguez showed his class as he struck a Crespo pass into the net and gave Bhattacharja no chance of making a save.

The game could have been put to bed just eight minutes later when Nandhakumar found himself one-on-one with Bhattacharja. However, he fluffed his lines at the crucial moment and ended up missing the target.

The next phase of the game saw NorthEast United enjoying a spell of possession, but it resulted in nothing as against the run of play, Gambau’s team got a penalty in the 83rd minute. Crespo was heavily involved again as having come on as a substitute just two minutes ago, Laldanmawia Ralte ended up fouling him in the penalty area. 

Given his superb form, Brazilian striker Diego Mauricio never looked in doubt to miss from 12 yards out but he almost did, as Bhattacharja dived in the right direction and got a palm to the shot. However, such was the power behind the strike that it did not matter as the ball rolled into the back of the net.

Just when it seemed that the match would end in a 3-0 win for the visitors, a careless error cost Odisha a deserving clean sheet. A lobbed ball from the deep found Jordan in a dangerous position, but before he could capitalise on it, he was brought down inside the box by substitute Sarangi.

Having already scored five goals this season, the Colombian took the responsibility on his shoulder and scored his sixth by sending the ball into the top corner. But from the broader perspective, it turned out to be nothing more than a mere consolation for the hosts as the match ended 3-1 in Odisha’s favor.

With this win, Odisha leapfrogged two places in the standings and is now placed in the fifth position with 30 points from 19 matches. They will end their league stage campaign with a game against Jamshedpur on Wednesday while NorthEast United, who remains at the bottom with 5 points from 19 games, will end their disastrous campaign with a match against Chennaiyin on Friday.