ISL: Lack of rotation & options hurting NorthEast United's play-off push

The Highlanders, after a bright start to the season, have tailed off a bit and need to find their mojo back...

Going into Friday's Indian Super League (ISL) game between NorthEast United and FC Goa, both teams were in a bit of a slump. NorthEast were coming to the game on the back of three consecutive draws while FC Goa had suffered two draws and a loss in their previous three games. 

However, it was FC Goa who would find their freescoring ways again and end up winning 5-1 after ripping the NorthEast United defence to shreds in the second half. 

Their star striker Ferran Corominas ended up with a brace and matched Iain Hume's tally of 28 goals to pull level with him as ISL's all-time topscorer but it was another man who ran the show. Hugo Boumous was the wrecker-in-chief for the Gaurs, scoring one goal and setting up two others. 

He was a menace throughout the game for Goa as NorthEast United struggled to keep him under check. But they did manage to hold him off in the first half as Goa did not force a save from Pawan Kumar in the first half despite seeing the lion's chunk of the ball. 

And Eelco Schattorie's team started to grow into the game at the start of the second half. That has been a feature of the Highlanders throughout the season. They work hard as a group and push until the end, as was evidenced in their wins over ATK and Kerala Blasters. 

But they were playing their sixth game in 22 days and Schattorie's decision not to rotate his team much started to take its toll as the match went by. The team started tiring and against an opponent who moves the ball swiftly, that could be dangerous. The Dutchman also did not have many options, albeit due to injuries. 

Gurwinder Singh, filling in for the injured Mislav Komorski, would go on to have a horror show in the second half. He was easily outpaced and outmuscled by Coro for Goa's opener in the 59th minute. His ill-advised lunge on Edu Bedia 10 minutes later allowed the Spaniard to go through on goal and chip the goalkeeper. 

Then he failed to pick up Boumous for the third goal and was promptly taken off. By that time, Goa were on the ascendancy and in their groove. It was too much of a task for a tiring defence, helmed by Mato Grgic who looked jaded, to stop the Goan juggernaut. 

It would very well have been worse for the Highlanders. However, they can point out an atrocious decision by the referee in the 55th minute which could have changed the course the game. Carlos Pena handled the ball inside the Goan box and it was a blatant penalty. But the referee did not spot it and awarded Goa a free-kick instead. 

The refereeing standards have been poor in the ISL so far and that particular call was one of the worst. 

However, there is no denying that fatigue affected NorthEast as they find themselves in a mid-season slump. After picking only three points from the last four games, they are only a point above Jasmhedpur FC who are fifth. The break could not have come at a better time for Schattorie's side. 

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