‘Defending be damned, let’s go and get some goals’ was the formula NorthEast United FC had to follow. “I will send out a team that I think can win the match” was what Pune coach David Platt had said on Tuesday. Cesar Farias’ side ended the first half 3-1 ahead on Wednesday.
In their final league game of the season, the highlanders needed a win and hope for other results to go their way to qualify for the last four. Judging by the atmosphere, the 27,108 fans in attendance knew what was at stake, and in the fifth minute, the team showed they did too.
Nicolas Velez ended a fine counterattacking move, with the midfielder finishing off an inch perfect low cross from the right, put in by forward Victor Mendy.
Pune had their own hopes in the balance. Win the last two to go through. In the eighth minute, former Derby County midfielder, James Bailey — still only 27 and once tipped to be the next Robbie Savage — scored the equaliser.
NorthEast’s goal came in the 18th minute. Velez turned creator, crossing for Diomansy Kamara, who tapped in from close. Pune left back Nicky Shorey, 34-years-old and a veteran in England’s top-flight, was out of position for both goals. Andre Bikey added a third before the end of the half.
Most managers say that the half time team talk can be crucial to change a game, and having been assistant coach at Manchester City, Pune coach David Platt is one man probably capable of speaking one or two words of encouragement.
Pune controlled the second half, but failed to convert. Adrian Mutu scored a postage stamp free kick in the 86th to make it 3-2, but NorthEast held on. After seeing the team do a lap of honour, the drive home on NH 37 will be a happy one for the fans. Until December 5 though, when Pune take on Chennaiyin to decide who gets the final spot in the knockouts, their nights will be sleepless.