Eelco Schattorie would have been a relieved man after his 10-man NorthEast United held on for the large majority of the second half to secure a draw against Jamshedpur FC at Guwahati on Thursday.
It was after all a draw that catapulted the Highlanders back to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) while maintaining their impressive unbeaten start to the season.
However, the Dutchman will also know that it could have been so much better for his men on the night as a first home win of the season continued to elude them.
For much of the first period at Guwahati on Thursday, the hosts were on the front foot with Bartholomew Ogbeche making a constant nuisance of himself in the opposition box. The Nigerian striker’s quick feet and imposing physical prowess had Jamshedpur defenders Tiri and Pratik Chaudhari harrying and scrambling for a large part.
Playmaker Diego Gallego was at the heartbeat of everything good NorthEast did in the final third with the Uruguayan not shirking his defensive responsibilities as well in what was a box-to-box role. Midfielders Jose Leudo and Rowllin Borges were tactically excellent too as Schattorie employed a high press to stifle Jamshedpur in their own half.
The plan seemed to be working to perfection for the Dutchman with the visitors finding it difficult to create anything substantial apart from some hopeful crosses from Spaniard Carlos Calvo.
Ogbeche showed why he is such an astute buy as he leaped to the top of the goal-scoring charts with an excellently taken goal that left Jamshedpur’s defenders on the mat. On the wings, Redeem Tlang too was a lively threat from the right all night while Nikhil Kadam was a bit more subdued.
At the back, Mislav Komorski and Mato Grgic were handling Sumeet Passi and Farukh Choudhary fairly comfortably as well before a rush of blood to the head from the former saw the Croatian receive his marching orders before the half-time whistle.
Komorski can have no complaints after his wild swing of the elbow to Carlos Calvo's face and it was his brainless act that took the wind out of NorthEast’s sails on the night.
The complexion of the game, as expected, changed drastically in the second period with the hosts constantly being put on the back foot.
The high press disappeared with the visitors allowed to bombard forward in numbers. Even then, it took a defensive lapse from Reagan Singh which allowed Morgado to sneak through and lay the ball on the plate for Farukh to volley first time past the hapless Pawan Kumar.
From then on, it was always going to be preservation mode for the hosts and a point on the night was a fine effort from Schattorie’s men.
That brings us to Jamshedpur who had an entire 45 minutes with a man advantage but failed to beat Pawan Kumar more than once.
With the buys Ferrando had made at the start of the season, a Spanish revolution was on the cards for Jamshedpur but their display on Thursday was anything but Spanish.
While most of the first half saw Calvo whipping the ball in aimlessly with Passi and Farukh nowhere to be found, the second half descended into a game of hopeful long punts into the box as Tim Cahill made his way onto the pitch.
Devoid of any real creative spark with Mario Arques having a poor outing, the visitors kept pumping in balls after balls into the opposition box in the slim hope that Cahill would be able to making something out of it.
The Australian barely had an impact and Michael Soosairaj’s attempt straight into the hands of Pawan Kumar in the dying minutes being the only time that the visitors actually attempted to play through the middle.
They struggled against NorthEast’s high press in the first half but when they were actually afforded the space and time in the second period, they were found to be bereft of ideas.
The goal scored by Ogbeche came through a defensive error as well, this time from Arques. Instead of clearing the loose ball from his own box, the Spaniard held on to it to play it out from the back and paid the price with a tenacious Gallego stealing it off him.
After an impressive start to their campaign, Ferrando’s men are starting to fizzle out and this will be a big cause of worry for the Spanish coach.
While they remain unbeaten too, their performance on Thursday will not inspire much confidence. Perhaps the international break has taken away all the momentum from their flying start but they will need to regain it soon if they are to go one better than last year’s fifth place finish.