FC Goa were held to a 1-1 draw by NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium as they ended unbeaten in the first half of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season, which came to an end on Friday night.
The unbeaten FC Goa found an interesting match in NorthEast United FC, who were seeking their first win in six ISL matches. The Gaurs have recently been hit by the injury-ridden absence of their Spanish midfielder Victor Rodriguez, who with three goals and assists each had an impactful run in their campaign thus far.
His departure required someone from the squad to step up temporarily at least, and those duties were carried out by Carlos Martinez, who had netted only twice before this in this season.
But before his goal, the Highlanders had already been hit with a massive blow as their centre-back Michel Zabaco had to be stretchered out of the field after apparently pulling up a muscle in the 14th minute.
His absence created a gaping hole in their backline, and Martinez jumped upon that by beating Asheer Akhtar in the air to meet a beautifully carved cross by Noah Sadaoui. Martinez barely nodded the ball home and got his team ahead in the 20th minute, in a move that was first set up by Raynier Fernandes and his pass to Noah at the edge of the box.
Regardless of the recent run of barren results, Juan Pedro Benali has earned laurels for enabling his side to put up a fight every time they encounter a highly fancied opponent on the field.
Parthib Gogoi had started the tournament emphatically, netting in three consecutive games from their first match onwards. However, his influence arguably slightly wore down as the campaign progressed, but Benali didn’t lose faith in him and decided to shake things up a bit to rediscover his optimal potential.
On Friday night, he shifted him to the right flank and drew instant rewards for the same. Getting past Jay Gupta, he curled in an inch-perfect cross for his fellow forward Jithin M.S. The latter broke no sweat in finding his way past the duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Odei Onaindia and hammering the ball past goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh in the 26th minute. If Gogoi and Jithin starred upfront, it was custodian Mirshad Michu’s turn to keep the scores level at the back.
Noah blazed his way through the NorthEast United FC backline and laid out a pass for the onrushing Carl McHugh. The defensive midfielder shot from his first touch outside the 18-yard box, and Michu had to dive full stretch to keep his effort at bay.
FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez was adamant about getting three points, and his host of substitutions that included the introductions of Boris Singh, Paulo Retre, and Muhammed Nemil was aimed at grabbing hold of the elusive winner.
That didn’t come through, but FC Goa can take a lot of heart from the first half of their campaign, in which they didn’t lose a single game whatsoever. For the Highlanders, there is a lot to play for in the second half of the season, after some encouraging displays in the last few months following a disappointing run in ISL 2022-23 altogether.
Noah Sadaoui regularly troubled the NorthEast United FC defence. He completed 23 of his 28 passes, tackled once, made two interceptions, created three goal-scoring opportunities, earned four fouls, and put in nine crosses, in addition to securing the assist for the goal by Martinez.
The ISL 2023-24 action has reached the halfway mark with this game. The season takes a break for international action, which will see the Indian men’s national team compete in the AFC Asian Cup campaign in Qatar.