ISL Analysis | Clinical Mumbai punish NorthEast’s sloppy defence

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ISL Analysis | Clinical Mumbai punish NorthEast’s sloppy defence

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Subhayan Dutta


NorthEast United's frustrating run in the ISL was further stretched on Wednesday, as they went down 2-0 to Mumbai City FC in Guwahati. Balwant Singh scored a goal in each half of the game to take his side to fourth on the table as NorthEast linger in ninth place with just one win in six games.

NorthEast’s misfiring attack- a huge concern 

The Highlanders, in whatever little success they have had in the previous three seasons, have always been known for their goal-scoring prowess and free-flowing gameplay. While they have been able to retain the fluid buildup this season, it is the scoring part that has let them down. NorthEast came into today’s game with 58 attempts in five matches averaging almost 12 shots per game which were second only to league leaders FC Goa.

Their tendency to squander chances was a huge talking point ahead of today’s game because Mumbai City FC’s poor defence was expected to give NorthEast the opportunities they needed to get something out of the game. Even though the hosts started the game well with more possession and passing accuracy to their name, their Achilles heal came crashing down on them again. Seiminlen Doungel’s unbelievable miss from a yard out in the 26th minute set up the familiar ambience and became an early contender for miss of the season. To their misfortune, it was followed by Balwant Singh’s opener just eight minutes later that further cemented the losing mentality in the team. 

Their confident buildup till Mumbai’s penalty box remained constant throughout the game but they weren’t able to overcome the mental block of misfiring in the final third. Mumbai scored their second in the 68th minute, which pretty much sealed the outcome with half-an-hour to go. Coach Joao Carlos Pires de Deus is on for a frustrating season if his players don’t start scoring fast.

Everything that is wrong with NorthEast United

The Highlanders are struggling yet again in the league despite promising reinforcements during the summer and positive results in the pre-season. And while many would point out their inability to score as the biggest chink in their armour, it is actually their poor defence that has been at the crux of things. Of course, any side would need to score to win games but only a good defence can keep a team in games if the attack can't deliver. NorthEast’s gameplay relies majorly on possession that they need to keep consistently throughout the 90 minutes to increase their chances of scoring and consequently, winning. However, their defence has let them down time and again, heaping more pressure on the attackers. 

A domineering first-half display by the Highlanders saw them returning to the dugout trailing 1-0, which came from one careless decision by goalkeeper Ravi Kumar to come out and let the ball slip in through his legs. Make no mistake, the newbie did very well for the rest of the game making four saves and distributing the ball with 91% accuracy.

As NorthEast looked dangerous in the second-half coming close to an equalizer, they conceded yet another from sloppy defence by Rowlin Borges. The players crumbled under pressure by the muscular Achilles Emana that led to an easy tap-in by Balwant Singh. The midfielder had hardly put a foot wrong in the entire half, having 74% passing accuracy with a commanding presence in the midfield. It was the two moments of concentration lapses that brought the hosts' chances of winnings crashing down, and it is something they can easily avoid.

The Showstopper

Balwant Singh became the top Indian scorer of the ISL with four goals to his name as he tapped in Emana’s simple pass round NorthEast’s keeper. While hardly any of his goals have exhibited top quality finesse or perfection, it is his indomitable will that sets him apart from the rest. Standing in front of a setup, which relies mostly on physicality, Balwant doesn’t a plethora of chances in a game, but with him, behind the ball, there is never a lost cause.

He never stops chasing defenders regardless of the scoreline, and usually has the ability to drag multiple defenders away. He hardly gets any balls with too much quality but whenever he does, the striker is usually alone with no attackers nearby to assist him. He got only 38 touches today and could hardly pass it to anyone. 

During the first goal, Balwant embarked on his attacking run as soon as he got the through ball from Emana. If the goalkeeping had not made a mistake, it didn’t even look like a genuine chance. But, Balwant showed his terrific presence of mind to stroke the ball through his feet in such a short span of time. He took a total of five shots on target, getting two of them in the net.

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