The Blues edged the Highlanders in a tight clash at home as the league’s summit once again changed hands.

Bengaluru FC edged past NorthEast United FC courtesy of a 2-1 scoreline at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Friday in the Indian Super League (ISL). Spanish defender Juanan and skipper Sunil Chhetri scored on either side of Marcinho’s equaliser from the spot, to bag all three points and ensure the Blues’ climbed to the summit of the league table.

Addressing the media during the post-match press conference was the league debutant’s head coach Albert Roca. The Spaniard admitted that the encounter was a tough one. “The game was tough and hard for us because they (NorthEast) were managing the game quite well,” remarked Roca. “For some time, it was a difficult job to overcome the situations. But then in the second half, we had a talk to be a little calmer and it was just a question of going ahead and trying to score again.”

The 55-year-old did not shy away from praising the Highlanders for their performance, acknowledging the fact that they were a very good team. “We knew how difficult it would be to win today,” he stated. “Even if they (NorthEast) might not qualify for the playoffs, they have really positive dynamics. They are a very physical team with good defenders, and very strong and quick midfielders.”

“They also have (Halicharan) Narzary and Len (Seiminlen Doungel) in good shape. So, they are a team who do not deserve to be where they are. They had a bad start to the season, but I think this team will be much better up until the end of the season.”

Before concluding, Roca also highlighted the importance of picking up three points from this fixture. “It’s very important to follow other teams who have won, like Chennaiyin FC and FC Pune City,” he inferred. “So, we are in the same stage more or less, just one point ahead.”

“But, it was very important to eliminate one team which will get some points in the next few games because they are doing things well. It’s a very important victory and we have to just look forward now and keep working because nothing is done. There are six games left and we need to win at least three to be in the last four. So, let’s go for that.”

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The Highlanders’ head coach Avram Grant addressed the media post the match and expressed his disappointment at the loss. “In the second half, we were the better side,” remarked Grant. “We created a lot of chances, especially from the sides. Then one mistake and we lost the game. I think the game deserved a draw, but football is a game about whoever scores, wins. I am not happy, but what can we do?”

The Israeli also rued the missed opportunities that could have changed the outcome of the game. “In football, there are lots of ways to score goals,” he stated. “You can score from set-pieces, you can score from combinations and you can score from mistakes of other teams. Bengaluru is a good team, but I think we managed to stop them except for one chance in the first half. Otherwise, we created a lot of chances.”

He further added, “Our last pass was not too good and they scored from one mistake of ours. The cross was not good, but it touched the leg of our player and we were unlucky. The first goal was a set-piece and even we ourselves scored from a penalty. It was a game of a lot of chances, but it was a game that should have been a draw I think. But, in football, scoring is winning; doesn’t matter how.”

The 62-year-old also admitted having been aware of Bengaluru’s strength from set-plays. “We knew they score a lot of goals from set-pieces, we knew their targets and we were prepared for this,” revealed Grant. “We knew they targeted the tall players. They did well. The delivery was good and we did not mark well. That was the first goal. We had two good corners from which we could not score and that’s what set-pieces are about.”

The former Chelsea FC manager concluded by stating that his team deserved at least a point from the game. “The other team was not better than us,” he opined. “So, we need to improve a lot of things. In general, the team is progressing very well and this is why I am unhappy at not having at least taken a point, that we deserved.”