NorthEast United FC scripted an incredible 2-1 victory over table-toppers Bengaluru FC in the first leg of the semifinal clash of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Guwahati on Thursday. In four attempts since last season, NorthEast United were the second best side, but when it mattered most, the hosts turned it around majestically at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
The second leg will be played at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru on March 11. Bengaluru struggled to make an impact in the attacking third and paid the price in the first half as Redeem Tlang (20th) put the hosts in front.
An improved second-half from the visitors culminated in a goal by Xisco Hernandez (82nd). But a late penalty from Juan Mascia (90+3rd) handed the advantage back to Eelco Schattorie’s side. NorthEast, however, were dealt a huge blow as Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin Borges were forced off the field at the end of the first half due to injuries.
NorthEast took control of the game and pressed Bengaluru high up the field right from the start. The hosts enjoyed much more freedom on the wings and created chances from crosses into the box. Tlang made full use of space afforded to him on the wings and scored in the 20th minute. Ogbeche sprayed the ball to the right for Tlang who cut inside and curled a terrific left-footed strike into the top left corner of the net.
An out-of-sorts Bengaluru defence struggled to contain the NorthEast attacks. Gallego’s drilled effort from the edge of the box after the half an hour mark rolled inches wide of the post.
Injuries to Ogbeche and Borges at the end of the first half forced NorthEast to slow their tempo down after the change of ends. Bengaluru started to see more of the ball but it were NorthEast who threatened first after the restart from a counter attack. Nikhil Kadam received the ball on the left flank and crossed into the box.
The ball was headed clear into the path of Tlang who attempted a volley from the edge of the box but it was miscued. Bengaluru went close in the 66th minute from a corner won by Miku. The delivery into the box wasn’t properly cleared and it fell to Xisco Hernandez whose swerving strike from edge of the box missed the post by a whisker.
Bengaluru managed to grab the equaliser in the 82nd minute. Sunil Chhetri latched on to a ball into the box from Miku, dribbled to the byline and cut it back for Xisco who beat his marker and tapped the ball in at the near post.
A free-kick in the last minute of added time gave the hosts their lifeline. Harmanjot Khabra fouled Juan Mascia inside the box as Lalthathanga Khawlhring sent the ball into the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Mascia stepped up and slotted home from 12 yards to secure an important win for NorthEast.