The Highlanders failed to build upon to last season’s miraculous run of form.

Indian Super League (ISL) side NorthEast United FC had a forgetful 2021-22 after the highs of the 2020-21 season. They had a sluggish start to the season as injuries and issues off the pitch dictated their on field performances. The ISL’s first ever Indian head coach Khalid Jamil failed to live up to everyone’s expectations as the Highlanders finished 10th on the league standings. 

It was a tale of complete downfall for NorthEast United as they slipped from the third position to tenth on the league standings this season. NorthEast United were low on their ‘never say die’ attitude this season and surrendered themselves very easily this season. They did their homework pretty well during the off season and had it not been an injury hit season, the story would’ve been completely different for the Guwahati-based side.

On that note, Khel Now takes a look at how the Highlanders performed in the 2021-22 season.

Fact Sheet for NorthEast United for ISL 2021-22

NorthEast United had a disappointing ISL 2021-22 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Top Performers

Deshorn Brown

Deshorn Brown finished with his best-ever stats in an ISL season (Courtesy: ISL Media)

The Jamaican finished as the top scorer for the Highlanders despite an injury hit season. He started well, but struggled with his fitness for the majority of the season due to hamstring injuries. Brown took the field in just 12 out of 20 games in the 2021-22 season. But still,he managed to get his career best numbers in a single ISL season.

He found the back of the net on seven occasions which included a hattrick against Mumbai City FC despite being two goals down. He was efficacious in the final third as his speed coupled with his shot accuracy caused a lot of damage to some teams.

VP Suhair

VP Suhair
VP Suhail scored four goals and two assists this season (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Suhair was one of the few positive takeaways in what was a season to forget for NorthEast United. He has been one of the consistent performers in the league over the last two seasons and has proved his mettle. Despite being a striker, Suhair possesses exceptional defensive attributes. 

He has been an undisputable starter for Khalid Jamil’s side for the last two seasons and has set an example for everyone watching. In 19 games this season, Suhair achieved his career-best ISL figures, with four goals and two assists. Not just that, Suhair also worked incredibly hard defensively and executed 84 tackles, 29 blocks, 16 interceptions and four clearances.

Laldanmawia Ralte

NorthEast United vs Bengaluru FC
Danmawia scored three goals this season, including two off the bench (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Danmawia was one of the surprise packages in the Highlanders camp this season. He stood up to the occasion almost everytime Khalid Jamil counted on him. Despite all the criticism that he received off the pitch for his mistakes, Danmawia did not hold back. Instead he made sure his performances on the pitch were bigger than his disrespect was.

He played the role of a proper super substitute by dropping in good performances off the bench. The left winger made 12 appearances for the Highlanders and scored three goals, including two off the bench. He completed NorthEast United’s heist of a magical comeback against Bengaluru FC by scoring a late winner. Moreover, he also provided an assist and wrapped his season with four goal contributions.

Underperformer of the season

Mathias Coureur

A lot was expected when NorthEast United FC announced the signing of the former Martinique international, but things did unfold as expected. Mathias Coureur joined the Highlanders on the back of a great season in Bulgaria. But everything went south for Coureur both on and off the pitch.

His unsatisfactory performances on the pitch didn’t go well with the supporters which resulted in a lot of criticism. He failed to fulfill the team requirement in the absence of key players and struggled to find his mojo. In 10 games this season, Mathias Coureur found the back of the net just once.

Start to life in India was decent for Coureur on a personal level as he scored his debut goal in his debut match for the Highlanders. But after that he went on a nine match goal drought which cost NorthEast heavily. Issues both on and off the pitch resulted in Coureur parting company with the two-time semi-finalists midway through the season. 

Top performances of the season

1. NorthEast United FC 2-1 FC Goa

WATCH: NorthEast United 2-1 FC Goa

2. NorthEast United FC 2-1 Bengaluru FC

WATCH: NorthEast United 2-1 Bengaluru FC

3. NorthEast United FC 2-0 SC East Bengal 

WATCH: NorthEast United 2-0 SC East Bengal

Manager’s Report Card

After the highs of last season, NorthEast United made Khalid Jamil the first ever full-time coach in the ISL. The hype was real around Jamil becoming the first Indian to lead an ISL side. But NEUFC couldn’t live up to it. Khalid Jamil’s side began the season with a demotivating defeat against Bengaluru FC in November. Things became bad to worse as the season progressed and an injury to Uruguayan maestro Federico Gallego was more than enough to hamper their playoff aspirations.

After two defeats and a draw in their opening three games, the Highlanders clinched their first win against FC Goa in December. The Highlanders ended 2021 with a hard fought 3-3 draw against the Islanders and were in a decent position considering the proportion of available resources at Khalid Jamil’s disposal.

But 2022 unfolded with a lot of reality checks and bumps throughout the rest of the season. They lost seven, drew three and won just one since the turn of the year. NorthEast United began strongly and opened the scoring on multiple occasions, but failed to keep their lead intact which resulted in them dropping 21 points this season. 

Lessons to be learnt

The biggest drawback for Khalid Jamil’s side this season was their back line. They allowed almost everything to pass through them as if they didn’t exist. They conceded 43 goals, the joint highest alongside Odisha FC. Moreover, they also recorded a pathetic goal difference of -18, the joint lowest alongside Chennaiyin FC and SC East Bengal.

Changing and chopping things every now and then has also been a core problem to NorthEast United’s inconsistent performances over the years. They let go of multiple key players in the off season without bringing in proper replacements which cost them heavily this season. If NorthEast United want to map a way forward, they need to understand the importance of continuity in modern day football.

Fan View

Talstay Bhattacharya

From Eelco’s Ferrari to Khalid’s miraculous recovery, the past few seasons have been very encouraging for us. Yes, there have been setbacks, but we’ve managed to continuously bounce back and keep producing quality players for the national team. The last season was nothing but insane. Khalid took over the team and we produced our best ever result. We were excited that Khalid was going to continue with us this season. And we felt proud that we became the first team to appoint an Indian head coach in the Indian Super League. We hoped that we would even better ourselves this time, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.

One of the major reasons behind our success last season was our great defense. We suffered a major setback when four of our starting players from that defence left the club in the transfer window. There was an urgent need for replacements, but we failed to recruit anyone with such quality. There were encouraging signings and retentions like Santana, Camara, Brown, Gallego etc. However, we had already lost the domestic core and the void left by players like Apuia made it obvious that it was going to be a tough season for us.

The first game of the season was an indication to the horror defensive show that we would witness for the rest of the season. Things were going from bad to worse as players were getting injured. But the worst news came when Gallego was ruled out of the season. It dealt a major blow to the morale of the team as well as the fans. The performance deteriorated further in the later half of the season as the team failed to settle to  the new four foreigners policy. We finished the season at the top of the list of most conceding teams in the league, something we hope that we won’t repeat in the coming years.

Overall, this was a pretty underwhelming season for us which can also be taken as a learning experience. The performing players should be retained and new quality domestic products must be recruited to strengthen team. A long term vision to form a quality domestic core is required to bring consistency as inconsistency can be fatal in the coming years with the introduction of promotion and relegation system.

As the games are expected to return home next season, we hope that it’ll be a great morale booster for the team as well as the management in front of the home fans. Yes, it has been an unlucky and tough season. But we are hopeful to bounce back like we’ve done in the past. There will be challenges, we know, but we are hopeful for a better future of the club and regardless of whatever happens.

WE WILL ALWAYS WALK THROUGH THIS TOGETHER!

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