The Highlanders will aim to become the third team to qualify for the play-offs spot in the Indian Super League following the likes of Bengaluru and FC Goa to achieve the feat. The Highlanders will be up against Pune City as they look to qualify to the semi-finals for the first time ever.
Eelco Schattorie’s team is one of the four teams who have lost just three matches this season.
United have picked up 27 points from 16 matches and sit third on the table. A 2-0 win over Mumbai City FC in their last game should give them the confidence to overcome the threat posed by a resurgent Pune.
“I didn’t mention anything to the players about qualifying. I really take it game by game because if I look back at the last 10 games, the number of times I had to shuffle to make the best possible eleven, it was almost 10 games,” said Schattorie.
With 12 goals, Bartholomew Ogbeche remains the key player for NorthEast and remains two goals shy of equalling Ferran Corominas.
He has the support of Federico Gallego, who is joint-second on the list of most assists and new recruit Panagiotis Triadis who has had an impact in the attacking third.
“Our tactics were spot on offensively (against Mumbai City). That was how it was supposed to be, but it is not like I’m sitting here with the full conviction that everything is going to be fine,” said Schattorie.
After a bad start to the season, Pune have regained form under new head coach Phil Brown.
Their last defeat came in November, against Bengaluru FC. Since then, the Stallions have won four out of five matches and are seventh on the table with 18 points.
Brown has breathed life into a squad that now stands an outside chance of bagging a spot in the play-offs but they are counting upon NorthEast and Mumbai losing points in their remaining games.
“I am impressed with the group that I am working with, the players have taken to my methods very well. As a coach, you’re delighted with that.
“I think we have good goals in our team and when you get that as a coach, then you can apply your methods with a lot of belief and confidence. The Indian players, in particular, have taken to that,” said the Pune head coach.
Striker Robin Singh grabbed a brace as Pune defeated Jamshedpur in their last match and has been a threat up front in recent games.
Ashique Kuruniyan has been a menace from the wings for the opposition’s full-backs. Even though Marcelinho picked up his fourth yellow card against Jamshedpur FC and remains suspended, Brown will look for a fourth consecutive win away from home as they take the field in Guwahati.