Federico Gallego's spectacular strike in the 81st minute helped NorthEast United to a 2-1 win over ATK Mohun Bagan on Tuesday. Gallego also assisted Luís Machado for NorthEast's opening goal in the 60th minute, which was cancelled out by Roy Krishna in the 72nd minute. But the Uruguayan's goal gave Khalid Jamil his second straight win as NEUFC manager.
The result also means Mumbai City FC remain six points clear at the top ahead of second-placed ATKMB, while NorthEast go fifth with 18 points, level with fourth-placed Hyderabad and well within contention to make the playoffs. NorthEast next face leaders Mumbai on January 30, while ATKMB are up against Kerala Blasters on the 31st.
The first half was a cagey, with both teams getting only one shot on target each. NorthEast stuck to defending their area and did not have too many completed passes in the opposition half. Bagan had their first chance in as early as the eighth minute when Krishna found Javi Hernandez through a cut-back but the midfielder's shot was wide.
ATKMB dominated possession and looked more threatening in the first half, but NorthEast also had their chances. Just after the half-hour-mark, Bagan keeper Arindam Bhattacharja was forced to make a save after Machado received the ball from Gallego and took a shot.
The opening goal arrived in controversial circumstances when ATKMB defender Tiri gave away the ball cheaply as it bounced off Gallego and ran loose behind the defence. Tiri found himself in a race with Machado to get to the ball first and took a tumble under pressure from the latter. Even though the linesman's flag went straight up, referee Crystal John did not stop play and Machado duly slotted it past Arindam. Despite vigorous protests by Bagan, John allowed the goal to stand after consulting with the linesman.
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NorthEast nearly doubled their lead soon when Gallego curled in a wonderful cross across the face of the goal. Mashoor Shereef was able to get on the end of it, but his looped header struck the post and bounced back into the play.
However, the lead lasted just over ten minutes as a low ball from Carl McHugh outside the box found Krishna unmarked at the far post. The Fijian was never going to miss a simple tap in.
After the goal, ATKMB pushed hard for the winner, but with just under ten minutes left, Gallego curled one from outside the box and it went in after bouncing off the upright.
There was a late penalty call for Bagan after Krishna went down in the box under pressure from NEUFC keeper Subhasish Roy, but the referee awarded a goalkick.