It isn't every day that Mumbai City are outplayed in the ISL. It is rarer still for Amrinder Singh to fetch the ball from inside his net twice in a single game. Forget about that happening inside the first 10 minutes.
That is also because this kind of performance from one of their opponents is pretty rare. This latest avatar of North East United -- led by Khalid Jamil, the mastermind of Aizawl FC's I-League miracle - certainly put up quite the show.
NEUFC's win in Bambolim on Saturday evening was built on ambition, shown from the outset, in how Jamil lined his team up. Fresh off the confidence of wins in his first two matches, against Jamshedpur FC and ATK Mohun Bagan, fielding Luis Machado and Federico Gallego in support of Deshorn Brown -- with Khassa Camara and Lalengmawia (Apuia) shoring up the centre -- told you that NEUFC weren't looking to sit back and soak up pressure as teams have done against Sergio Lobera's side this season.
MCFC came into the game on a 12-match unbeaten streak, but they had looked vulnerable in their last two matches, a 1-0 win against SC East Bengal, and a score draw with Chennaiyin FC - and Jamil was quick to pounce on their vulnerabilities.
Landing early blows was always going to be the key and NEUFC achieved just that. Six minutes in, Brown snuck in behind the defence and put away a sensational first-time effort off a cross-whipped in from the right. Just four minutes later, he took advantage of a loose ball from a corner to smash home. He could, in fact, have had a hat trick when he met a beautifully curled low pass from the left, but stabbed it wide of the target.
What NEUFC also did well was to minimise the influence of Hugo Boumous on the game. Camara and Apuia ensured that he never got enough room to pull the strings in midfield, and the few occasions that Bart Ogbeche, Jackichand Singh and Bipin Singh did create some openings in front for Mumbai, Subhasish Roy Choudhury snuffed them out with some assertive goalkeeping.
It wasn't the perfect performance -- Mumbai did manage a late goal that made the closing stages a tense one for the NEUFC bench -- but Jamil's team showed the right intent through the 90 minutes. NEUFC, under previous coach Gerard Nus, had nicked a win to get the season going when Mumbai were still yet to gel as a unit, and this makes it a rare double in what has been a pretty inconsistent season for all teams. In this performance, and the two before, though, Jamil has sent a great message for all the rest of the teams in the league.
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Play for wins from the outset. Try and kill games off when the running is in your favour. It's what Mumbai have often done, and why they find themselves on top of the league table.
If you look closer, though, with just about a third of all matches still to be played, there's not a lot between the teams that follow behind. ATKMB are perhaps looking good too for a top-four finish, but they need to get out of their comfort zone if they have to challenge Mumbai for the regular league stage title. And then, there's just six points between Goa and NorthEast, and ninth-placed Kerala.
The playoffs will rightfully go to teams that dare to play on the front foot. As Jamil's NorthEast did on a memorable Saturday evening.