NorthEast United took advantage of both their rivals for the top-four spot - FC Goa and Hyderabad FC - dropping points, with a convincing 3-1 victory over Odisha FC in the Indian Super League at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Sunday.
Goals from Luis Machado (9', 24') and Deshorn Brown (19') moved the NEUFC to third and two points clear of both Hyderabad and Goa. With the latter two teams taking on each other in their final game, NorthEast are now heavy favourites to grab a playoff spot. Bradden Inman (45') netted a consolation goal for Odisha.
NEUFC opened the scoring in the ninth minute, as Ashutosh Mehta found Machado with an accurate cross and the latter hit it first time past a diving Arshdeep Singh. Brown doubled the lead ten minutes later with a sublime finish after being put through by Federico Gallego.
NEUFC put the game beyond doubt just minutes later, as Gallego found Machado with an accurate looping ball and the latter headed it past the onrushing Arshdeep.
Odisha did manage to get back into the game in stoppage time just before the first-half whistle. New signing Inman, who has impressed since arriving from ATK Mohun Bagan, received the ball from Daniel Lalhlimpuia and attempted a finish from a narrow angle. His shoot took a heavy deflection off NEUFC defender Mashoor Shereef and went in.
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The goal injected new life into what had been a poor first half from Odisha and they signalled their intention to go looking for more goals by throwing on Diego Mauricio at halftime. But it was their opponents, who kept creating chances. Machado had a chance early in the second half but his shot was wide. Then, in the 62nd minute, Arshdeep had to pull off a fantastic double save as he denied both Gallego and Machado.
There was some late drama as Gurjinder Kumar was sent off for a second yellow, putting NEUFC at a disadvantage. Immediately after that, Brown missed a golden opportunity to put the result beyond doubt as his shot from a one-on-one position was straight at Arshdeep. Odisha kept applying pressure till the end, but the NorthEast defence stood firm to take all three points.