ISL: North East United go top of the table with gritty win over Pune

Pune: North East United FC (NEUFC) roared back to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) points table despite playing with a man down for much of the ninety minutes with a 1-0 win over FC Pune City here at the Balewadi Sports Complex on Wednesday.

Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro scored from close range in the 79th minute after the hosts were also reduced to 10 men when Eduardo Ferreira was sent off for a second booking in the 71st minute. North East lost Nirmal Chettri in the 36th minute.

FC Pune City made three changes with Arata Izumi, Raju Yumnam and Rahul Bheke all sitting out. The trio were replaced by Lenny Rodrigues, Zohmingliana Ralte and Francis Fernandes.

NorthEast United, fresh from a defeat to Mumbai City, made three changes to the line-up. Nirmal, Shouvick Ghosh and Holicharan Narzary were brought in place of Robin Gurung, Reagan Singh and Seityasen Singh.

The visitors got a few early chances to take the lead. A brilliant move in midfield involving Yusa Katsumi and Alfaro however saw Eduardo missing the flight of the ball and Alfaro not turning up on the end of the move at the right time.

Few minutes later, Rowlin Borges and Yusa Katsumi combined to set up Nicolas Velez but the Argentine back passed the ball to Romaric taking the sting out of the move.

But the tide swayed in favour of the hosts when Nirmal was given the marching orders for a rash challenge on Anibal Rodriguez. Co-owner and Bollywood actor John Abraham refuted the decision at half time but since the Highlanders were down to ten men, they were pegged back deep into their own half.

The best chance of the half came in the 41st minute when feted ISL custodian Edel Bete saved brilliantly from an Alfaro header from close.

Both teams entered the break goalless.

After the breather, North East defied numerical disadvantage to push the hosts on the back foot. Antonio Lopez Habas – serving his suspension and not on the touchline – brought in Sanju Pradhan in place of Lenny Rodriguez to add zip on the flanks and counter NEU FC’s pace. Arata Izumi was also drafted in place of Gouramangi Singh as Pune looked desperate to take the lead.

But it was not to be as the Maharashtra side were dealt a body blow when Eduardo picked up his second yellow card for an aerial tackle on Romaric. With both teams now a man down, NEUFC were rewarded for their industry on the counter.

Romaric, Velez and Katsumi were all involved in a goalmouth action which resulted in the Japanese setting up Alfaro to tuck it in past Bete.