NorthEast United FC will look to consolidate the form of its unbeaten run in the last nine matches when it takes on a strong ATK Mohun Bagan FC in the first leg of the second Indian Super League semifinal at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim, on Saturday.
Among the four teams in the play-offs, NorthEast’s ascendancy has been the most remarkable. It it recovered from a mid-season slump, which saw it drop deep in to the bottom half of the league table, before emerging as one of the title contenders.
The man behind its spectacular turnaround is Khalid Jamil, who took over as the interim head coach during the crisis and helped the team make it to its second ever ISL play-offs.
Jamil, who had joined as an assistant coach in the previous season, remained unbeaten in all the nine games as NorthEast recorded a creditable six wins and three draws.
“All the players have worked very hard. Because of them, we have reached here. I never think about the nine matches,” Jamil said on the eve of the match. “This is a very serious game and we will have to fight for everything. The boys have worked really through the season and hope they continue to do so in the next few matches.”
ATKMB remains one of the most consistent sides in the tournament but slips in the last two matches cost it the League Winners Shield. Coach Antonio Habas, who won the title twice with ATK before the merger, will hope to arrest the slump and help the team regain its winning form.
“We have to think positively and get back to the rhythm with which we have played so far. Our target will be winning the title and we have to put out best efforts to realise it,” Habas said.
ATKMB is likely to miss injured central defender Sandesh Jhingan.