This is the Highlanders’ worst start to a campaign.

NorthEast United’s misery continued in the Indian Super League (ISL 2022-23), as they fell to a 3-1 loss to Mumbai City on Friday. Ahmed Jahouh scored from a controversial penalty early on to give the visitors the league, before Parthib Gogoi scored the equalizer. However, Bipin Singh and Jorge Pereyra Diaz got in the scoresheet to get a comfortable win for their side. It resulted in the seventh consecutive loss this season for Marco Balbul’s side, marking their worst losing streak in the history of the competition.

Here are excerpts from Marco Balbul’s post-match press conference.

Marco Balbul fumes at referee after loss

Marco Balbul fumed at the referee after the game for being a decisive factor in the loss, especially in giving Mumbai a controversial penalty. He said, “After losing this game 3-1, I can go back to the first goal for Mumbai. It was a decisive decision from the referee, a bad decision for me. He was so far from the action, so he can’t take this decision. If you go back to the Bengaluru FC and Hyderabad games, you can count so many mistakes from the referees in our games this season.

“Mumbai doesn’t need presents from the referee, they’re the best team in the league. So, for me, that was a decisive decision against my team. We played very good football in the first half and scored a good goal to equalize. But we kept making silly mistakes, losing simple balls and the opponents punished us. The players worked hard today and gave everything, but it’s not enough in football. We need more quality and need to bring in more of the same,” he added.

When asked if VAR must be brought in to spot these refereeing mistakes, he stated, “For me, a mistake can happen. But it can’t be consistent against one team. It can’t be like that. Maybe the referee gives more respect to big clubs. But that’s unfair for me. It’ll be decisive for this league if VAR was here and it’ll make the games more fair, 100%.”

Decision to play Parthib Gogoi up front

Marco Balbul opted to take the bold decision of playing an all-Indian front-line, with goal-scorer Parthib Gogoi leading it. Questioned on playing an Indian as a no.9, he said, “I think it’s not just about an Indian forward, it’s also playing a very young and inexperienced forward. It was a decision that we’re struggling in this position, and that’s why we brought a foreigner for this position.

He added, “Of course, we brought Jordan (Wilmar), but he’s not in good shape as he hasn’t played in two months. Parthib showed that he is a good talent and worked really well and I’m happy with his performance. I think he’ll help NorthEast United a lot and be a very good player.”

General feelings on NorthEast United’s performances

When asked about his general feelings on NorthEast United’s performance on the day, the tactician remarked, “In the first half, our performance was good. In the second half, we had a very bad start – making a mistake leading to the third goal that finished the game. It’s very, very difficult to chase after this team. If you get close to them, they move the ball away.

“We lost the energy in the second half. I was unhappy with our performance in the second half. The team didn’t look bad, but it wasn’t enough. If you want to take points from these games, you must be consistent for 90 minutes. We should think that we need to make changes across all areas of the pitch generally. Things are looking very terrible, but we can change it.”

Lessons learnt from so many defeats and message to the players

When asked about what lessons he has learnt from losing so many games, Marco Balbul claimed, “In football, you learn every day. Even if I played and lost seven games, you have to learn. It’s our job to learn. When you lose seven matches, you learn lessons. But we should be more organized in defence, more organized and concentrated. We can’t concede an average of 2.3-2.5 goals per game. It’s not possible to win games with this statistic. We should be more concentrated when having the ball. We give gifts to the other teams so you can’t win games.”

Finally, the NorthEast United head coach spoke about his message for the players after so many losses. He said, “I appreciate their work. I appreciate they’re still going with all the power after seven losses. They can lose confidence and belief, but you can see their belief to be going as a team that wants to win. But we’re missing some quality and we need to bring more quality going forward,” he finished with.

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