After four disappointing seasons in the Indian Super League (ISL), NorthEast United have embarked on a difficult journey this season where they are under immense pressure to make it to the play-offs.
Other than Jamshedpur FC, who are just a year old, The Highlanders are the only side in the league to have never qualified for the play-offs.
With a coach like Eelco Schattorie on board, who has experience coaching in India, NorthEast will hope that they finally break their jinx and make it among the top four teams in the ISL.
In their quest for a play-off spot, The Highlanders have kick-off the ISL season five on a positive note. They are fifth on the league table with four points from the first two matches. However, all the top five teams are separated only by goal difference. After an exciting 2-2 draw against giants FC Goa at home, they defeated two-times champions ATK in Kolkata 1-0.
Other than Rowllin Borges and Rehenesh TP who are core members of the side, NorthEast United have changed the majority of their squad this season.
India international Rowllin Borges has been the standout player for the club in the ongoing season. He has been the backbone of the midfield in the first two matches.
Schattorie is utilising Rowllin in a box-to-box role alongside a much more defensive-minded Jose Leudo. As a result, the India international is now enjoying a much freer role and is controlling the game from midfield. His passing has been on point with an accuracy of 88.37 per cent (129 passes).
After an injury-plagued season last year, Rowllin lost his place in Indian team’s starting XI. In the Intercontinental Cup in June, Anirudh Thapa took his place in midfield and was impressive in India’s cup-winning campaign.
It was important for Borges to step up in the ISL this time and reclaim his place in the Indian lineup ahead of the Asian Cup 2019. He certainly looks to have done that with Thapa going through a rough patch.
Another regular player in NorthEast United side is goalkeeper TP Rehenesh. The Kerala-born custodian is the only player who has kept his place in the NorthEast side since ISL season one.
Rehenesh’s start to the season has not been exceptional. He has conceded two goals against FC Goa and just about a clean sheet against ATK. In both the games, he had some shaky moments and did not look convincing at all under the woodwork.
For a goalkeeper who has consistently played for one particular club, Rehenesh is far from proving to be a rock under the goalpost that the Highlanders should have come to expect.
He keeps committing school-boy errors and could have cost his team the win over ATK with a foolish elbow on Gerson inside his own box which went unnoticed by the referee.
High time, the goalkeeper churns out consistent performances for NorthEast. Otherwise, he could seriously hamper their play-off prospects.