United Sikkim's battle for survival in Indian football’s top flight is on track following their 5-0 victory over Air India, which would have done enough to restore the confidence of the squad.
They started their campaign in style by downing Salgaocar FC, who were coming into the game after making it into the semi-finals of the Federation Cup, but thereafter lost their way.
A humiliating 10-0 defeat to Prayag United ended Philippe De Ridder's reign and Bhaichung Bhutia took on the mantle for a few games to calm things down.
In came Australian Nathan Hall and, since then, United Sikkim have improved by leaps and bounds, though the results have continued to be elusive.
Inexperience and a lack of top-quality foreign players were the stumbling blocks, and the latter was to an extent taken care of in the winter transfer window when John Matkin, Steve Hayes and Juan Pablo Aracil joined their ranks.
Hall finally was rewarded with his first win in the I-League on Wednesday and he praised the commitment of the players to the team’s cause.
"I'm very happy and very pleased. Obviously after being here for a good part of five months, it's nice to break the shackles and get a win. We are delighted for the players because they are very good to me so far. Their commitment levels have been nothing short of sensational," Hall told Goal.
"I'm just really pleased and delighted for them. Because the way we have played, we haven't really deserved to lose or draw quite a few of our matches. We probably deserved to pick more points but that hasn't happened for whatever reason worked out. Everyone is happy – the players, the staff, the management. We have just got to keep it up. Like I told the boys that it's only one win. One swallow doesn't make a summer. But the most important thing is we try and build from this. [We have to] keep working hard and try to get a positive result in two and a half week’s time in Goa [against Salgaocar]."
The Snow Lions are four points from safety and have four matches to save their season and hope to remain afloat. And the going will certainly not be easy, with away matches against Salgaocar and East Bengal, while at home they face an in-form Sporting Clube de Goa and Mohun Bagan, who are also in the relegation rut, on the final day of the season.
"We have four matches and realistically, we are very much up against it but there is still a lot of desire and a lot of belief. Within the squad, we are still very optimistic and confident that we can win a couple of matches. Given the progress we have made in recent weeks and months, I still think we have a realistic chance of surviving provided we play in the same manner as we played against Air India," said the 27 year old.
"We shouldn't lose our focus and concentration. We are switched on for 95 minutes and if we do that, I honestly believe that we can be a match for any side in the competition."
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