Coming into their Indian Super League (ISL) tie on Saturday, Mumbai City FC were chasing history.
The team coached by Spaniard Sergio Lobera was on a 12-match unbeaten streak and a positive result against NorthEast United FC would have set a new record for the longest run in the ISL without a loss.
But against a buoyant NorthEast side, the Islanders not only conceded twice in the opening 10 minutes but ended losing only their second match of the ISL 2020-21 campaign.
While it was an inspired performance from NorthEast United that saw them inflict yet another loss on Mumbai City FC — they began their season with a 1-0 win over the same opponents — what stood out was the team’s hunger to challenge the best throughout the 90 minutes.
“It’s because of the players. They are working very hard. I just tell them to play their normal game,” Khalid Jamil, NorthEast’s interim coach said.
“We got two early goals. We kept well. We finished the first half 2-0. Mumbai City FC also played good. They have quality players. They also tried but we worked hard and got what we want.”
For a team that won just two of their 11 games in the league, NorthEast United have turned the corner ever since Khalid Jamil took charge following Gerard Nus’s departure earlier this month.
So, what is it about Khalid Jamil that made NorthEast United, a team that found the going tough for most of the season, finally start ticking all the right boxes?
A rejuvenated NorthEast United
While Khalid Jamil’s man-management skills and his ability to galvanise a side is well-documented, what’s stood out is their attacking intent in the three matches that they have played under the interim boss.
With Belgian Benjamin Lambot marshalling his troops at the back, Khalid Jamil has not hesitated from deploying all his attacking might from the first whistle in the matches he has managed so far.
NorthEast United has benefitted from having both Federico Gallego and Luis Machado — two of their creative kingpins — on the pitch for the most part of the matches, something that happened just twice under Gerard Nus.
Add to that pace and the tenacity that January transfer Deshorn Brown brings, NEUFC have looked threatening when they are least expected to be, as they showed for that opening goal against Mumbai City FC.
“It was difficult for us. It’s important for us to start the games well,” Mumbai City FC coach Sergio Lobera said.
“We lost our concentration and conceded two goals in three minutes. Our action was not good. There was a lot of space between the lines.”
Against a Mumbai City FC side that prides itself on bossing the midfield, Khalid Jamil had the reliable Khassa Camara and young Indian Lalengmawia stepping up to the task.
While Camara was on the money, making life difficult for the likes of Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous, Lalengmawia put up a stellar show that had his coach singing his praises.
“Frankly speaking, he is one of the best midfielders in India. I don’t need to tell him to do this and that. He always has the same energy and rhythm. Even during my playing career, I have never seen a player like him. I think he’s one of the best players,” Khalid said.
With a team that believes in Khalid Jamil’s philosophy and is willing to give it their all on the pitch, it will take something special to stop NorthEast United this season.