NorthEast United were one of the most frustrating teams to play last season in the ISL. Under Joao de Deus they looked threatening at times but were let down by a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. Prior to the season beginning, Joao was expected to take the side to one better than the 5th place they finished in 2016 campaign and finally reach the playoffs. Since the ISL kicked off in 2014, NorthEast are still yet to make the final knockout stages. Why is that, though? On a couple of occasions they’ve finished fifth and missed out by the odd point here and there but on the whole, they have not been good enough. Last season was no exception.
Just Shut Up, Joao
One thing about Joao was that he loved to talk. Mainly, he would talk complete bollocks. A few games into the season last year, he claimed that the ISL’s top goalscorer would come from his side. While they may not seem like a totally outlandish statement, it has to be taken into consideration that NorthEast only scored in one of their first SEVEN games. Thankfully, Joao was dismissed just before the turn of the year. In came a familiar face. Avram Grant. Eelco Schattorie came in alongside him as the pair looked to revitalise the club and perhaps make a late surge for the playoffs. It wasn’t likely, but it definitely wasn’t impossible.
Life Under Avram & Eelco
For Grant and Schattorie, the biggest problem was getting NorthEast scoring. Somehow, if like magic, it worked. Their opening game was against a rampant FC Goa side who scored goals for fun. Grant, forever the masterful tactician, knows only too well that if you don’t concede then you’re guaranteed at least a point. So, when Marcinho put them in the lead midway through the first half, they had something to hold onto. You can imagine Grant’s frustration when Arana levelled just seven minutes later. It wasn’t even as if it was a good goal, it was just sloppy defending. Halftime arrived and Grant got his message back across.
Seminlen Doungel beat the offside trap early in the second period to put NorthEast back in the lead and despite an onslaught of the highest order, NorthEast stood strong. Maybe they had turned a corner after all. Another home game followed six days later, this time against fellow strugglers ATK. Again, Grant’s tactics were clear, don’t concede and try and nick a goal. On the balance of play, NorthEast should’ve beaten ATK. Nonetheless, a stupendous strike from Zequinha gave ATK the spoils which meant that NorthEast’s faint aspirations of a late push were hanging by a very, very thin thread.
One of the biggest problems for NorthEast was that their support was dwindling. On the opening day against Jamshedpur, 21,151 were through the doors. Against Chennaiyin, on matchday ten, there were just 3,211. I understand a fluctuation of a couple of thousand here and there because sometimes life gets in the way, but nearly 17,000 have gone missing! Considering that your love for your football club is meant to be unconditional, it makes it all the more bizarre. Anyway. The 3,211 that showed up for the Chennaiyin game were treated to NorthEast’s best performance of the season. Seminlen Doungel scored a twenty-six-minute hattrick to give Grant his second win in three. Fans were seemingly now looking forward to the next game.
After that magnificent performance against Chennai, you’d be forgiven for feeling rather optimistic about the rest of the season. After all, there was still twenty-four points to play for. What would be a good tally? Double figures? Push the boat out and go for fifteen? Well, that didn’t happen. From the remaining eight games, NorthEast picked up one point. That was it. Their last home game of the season against Kerala Blasters saw a crowd of little over 1,000. The Highlanders had just had their worst campaign to date as they finished at the foot of the table, five points off ninth place. On the bright side, things couldn’t get any worse, could they?
Rather alarmingly, NorthEast were deathly silent over social media in the summer and it begged the question: would the club play the 2018-19 season? While the full story is still unclear, something wasn’t right over the summer at NorthEast, nevertheless, they are up and running and ready to go. Avram Grant has taken a step to one side and has left Eelco Schattorie to oversee the club from a coaching perspective. Eelco won’t accept mediocrity and I’ve got a feeling that we’ll see a totally different side to the one that finished last season.
One More Thing
If I was a betting man and luckily I am, I’d be staying the hell away from NorthEast United for the first part of the season. Unpredictable doesn’t get close to doing them justice.