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ISL 2018-19: Frail defence could jeopardise NorthEast's play-off hopes

12:26 PM GMT+4 21/02/2019
NorthEast United vs Pune City
After being held by Pune City, the Highlanders' wait for play-off qualification has been extended...

NorthEast United have never reached the play-off stages in the Indian Super League (ISL) so far - a fact which is bandied about everytime any topic crops up on the Guwahati-based club.

However, they looked primed to break that unwanted trend this season, given how well they started. But they did go off the boil a bit towards the latter stages. But even then, all Eelco Schattorie's men needed on Wednesday was a victory over FC Pune City to confirm their spot in the top-four.

But the 1-1 draw that panned out in Guwahati has left them in a spot of bother while also eliminating Pune City from the race.

It looked as if they had done enough when Rowllin Borges put them ahead in the second half after a horrendous mistake from Pune City custodian Kamaljit Singh. But Pune City, as has been the case recently, rallied and got an equaliser to ensure NorthEast have to wait until their final league game before sealing a spot in the top-four.

The Highlanders have a lot of quality going forward. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego are intelligent operators both on and off the ball. Not to mention new signing Panagiotis Triadis who has acquitted himself well so far on the left wing.

With such quality ball-players backed up well by the likes of Rowllin Borges and Lalthathanga Khawlring, NorthEast can threaten any team and Pune's defence found them a bit hard to contain at times.

But they do have a soft spot. Their goalkeepers are not really the most dependable, with Pawan Kumar and TP Rehenesh error-prone. The injury to Mislav Komorski left them in a spot of bother and Gurwinder Singh has not really looked solid in his place.

Much of their defensive solidity rests on the performance of Mato Grgic and Jose Leudo in defensive midfield. However, Pune City were all over NorthEast in the latter part of the second-half. The Stallions had a lot of joy on the wings, with Ashique Kuruniyan impressing down the left. The equaliser came from his cross, with Adil Khan left unmarked to slam a wonderful volley in.

Pune had plenty of chances to take the lead. Hume went close at least a couple of times with the crossbar coming to NorthEast's rescue. Pawan was forced into a last-ditch save from a deflected Ashique effort.

It was all NorthEast could do to hold off a Pune City attack which did not have Marcelinho.

Schattorie's side still have their fate in their own hands and need a positive result from their final game against Kerala Blasters. However, the absence of Leudo who picked up a red card will be a worry. The defence needs to step up for the Highlanders.