After a terrific start to the season, NorthEast United will be keen to consolidate their place among the Indian Super League’s (ISL) front-runners and extend their unbeaten streak when they lock horns with Jamshedpur FC at the Tilak Maidan Stadium here on Friday.
NorthEast will be pleased with the start they’ve had this campaign after six games. A victory on Friday will put them level on points with table-toppers FC Mumbai City and second-placed ATK Mohun Bagan.
NEUFC found themselves in a similar position the previous season, remaining unbeaten after six games. But two back-to-back defeats saw their momentum slip and they eventually finished ninth.
However, if they manage to avoid a defeat against Jamshedpur, the Guwahati-based side would achieve their best-ever unbeaten run in the league.
“We are working hard to be sure we’re not going to lose,” Nus said. “We try to go for the three points in every single game but I’m not worried (about losing). The most important thing is (that) we keep progressing, improving and we stick to our identity.”
“If we get the three points tomorrow, it will be the best (unbeaten) start for us, so looking forward to that,” he added.
NorthEast will have to be wary of Jamshedpur striker Nerijus Valskis, who is currently the joint top-scorer alongside FC Goa’s Igor Angulo. The Red Miners have been dependent on the Lithuanian upfront, and he has scored six of his team’s sevens goals so far.
Like NorthEast, Jamshedpur are heading into the game after successive draws. A win for Owen Coyle’s men, placed seventh, could enhance their chances of making it into the top four.
Jamshedpur will miss the presence of the suspended midfielder Aitor Monroy, who picked up a red card in the previous game against Mumbai. They will have to ensure they control the midfield and stop NorthEast United’s forwards from getting the service they want.
The defence, marshalled by Stephen Eze and Peter Hartley will also have to play a big role to keep NorthEast’s attacking force quiet. So far, only Mumbai have scored more goals than the Highlanders this season.
Coyle expects a tough challenge from his counterparts but also believes in his team’s abilities.
“They (NorthEast) are a good team, they have shown they are hard-working and it’s going to be a tough game,” he said. “We have enormous respect for them but it’s also a game we’re looking forward to. We know that if we’re at our very best, it’s a game we can win.”