Mumbai City kickstarted their 2023-24 Indian Super League campaign and their league title defence with a 2-1 win over NorthEast United at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Sunday. Jorge Pereyra Díaz started from where he left off in the ISL as the Argentine grabbed a brace on either side of a Parthib Gogoi strike to seal all 3 points for the Islanders.
Starting XI: Mohammad Nawaz, Rahul Bheke (c), Rostyn Griffiths, Mehtab Singh, Akash Mishra, Yoëll van Nieff, Apuia, Greg Stewart, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Jorge Pereyra Díaz.
Donning and debuting the all-new PUMA away kit, the Islanders kicked off a new league campaign in Guwahati the same way they ended the last – with attacking intent. Mehtab Singh, who returned to the XI for the Islanders’ league opener, found Akash Mishra down the left in the 3rd minute. The left back found Bipin’s run down the win but Akash’s pass was a little too strong for Bipin.
NorthEast United, who have undergone significant change in the summer both on and off the pitch, started off the game with attacking vigor as well. New summer signing Nestor Albaich picked up a loose ball in the midfield and found the young Parthib Gogoi out wide. Parthib fired in a cross for striker Manvir Singh but Nawaz was on hand to snap up the low cross.
The Islanders were slowly getting into the groove and came closest to opening their account in the 12th minute. Van Nieff picked out Bipin with a searching ball. Bipin set it up for Chhangte, who left it cleverly for Apuia to have a go, but Apuia’s shot was off target.
The Islanders’ midfielders were finding their rhythm and were building a fine connection with the attackers. An intricate passing move between Chhangte, Greg and Apuia carved open the NorthEast United defence but Chhangte was flagged offside in the process.
It was an encore minutes later that proved to be the turning point. Apuia took his time in midfield and fed it to Bipin who was in a central position. Bipin wonderfully spotted Chhangte’s run who sets it up for JPD to knock it in to put Mumbai City 1-0 up in the 26th minute.
Despite the setback, NorthEast United kept knocking. In the 32nd minute, a mispass from Greg was intercepted by Asheer Akhtar who played it up the pitch to Parthib Gogoi. Parthib, who was NorthEast United’s brightest spark in the first half, brought it onto his stronger right foot and curled it past Nawaz for a well-taken equalizer to make it 1-1.
However, the joy for the home fans did not last long. In the 38th minute, the Islanders did well to hold the ball in the second phase of play after a set piece. Chhangte delightfully floated in a cross towards Mehtab at the far post who headed it across the goal for Jorge Pereyra Díaz who was at the right place at the right time to fire it into the back of the net and fire Mumbai City back into the lead at 2-1.
JPD nearly completed a first-half hattrick just minutes before the whistle when Chhangte played the Argentine through on goal. Mirshad was off his line and did well to make himself big and keep Díaz’s shot out with his outstretched leg. The referee blew for half time soon after with the Islanders going into the break with a goal to the good.
The second half started with both sides patient in build up with an eye on the all-important next goal.
In the 55th minute, Bipin darted down the left and found Díaz in the box. Despite the Argentine being on a hattrick, he unselfishly tried to pick out a pass in the box which fell to Chhangte. The Mizo winger had two bites at the cherry but his shots were blocked.
NorthEast United kept pushing for the equalizer with most of their forward forays coming through their bright young talent Parthib Gogoi. The youngster showed glimpses of his skills as he dropped his shouled and beat two defenders before making his way into the penalty area. It was rather anticlimatic as Parthib fired a feeble shot which trickled just wide off the post, comfortably for Nawaz.
The Islanders nearly double their lead in the 61st minute, this time through a well worked corner. Yoëll van Nieff delivered a quality corner kick towards the far post and Rostyn made a well timed run but the big Aussie could not keep his attempt on target under pressure from the NorthEast defender.
Des Buckingham rang in the first couple of changes on the night in the 66th minute. Bipin went off after a tireless shift along with van Nieff who marked his ISL debut with a solid midfield performance. Vikram Partap Singh came on for the remainder of the evening along with Tiri who also made his ISL debut for the Islanders.
Mumbai City found the back of the net in the 81st minute for their third goal of the night but the referees had other plans. Greg’s corner was driven in by Mehtab’s well-timed header but the linesman had his flag up. Chhangte was suspected to have blocked the goalkeeper Mirshad’s line of sight from an offside position and the score stayed 2-1 in favor of Des Buckingham’s side.
In what was his final act of the evening, JPD once again spurned an opportunity to seal his first hattrick in the Islanders’ colors. In the 86th minute, Chhangte did well to work the ball into the box and fed it to Díaz but former Mumbai City man Tondonba Singh flew in with a heroic block to deny the Argentine his third goal of the game.
Díaz went off a couple minutes later along with Mehtab who came off worse from his earlier disallowed attempt with a suspected concussion. The duo were replaced by Vinit Rai and new signing Abdenasser El Khayati who made his Mumbai City debut.
With seven minutes added on after regulation time, Chhangte had the chance to put the game to bed. Tiri found Chhangte through on goal as the Mizo used his burning pace to go one-on-one with Mirshad but his attempt to slide the ball under the goalkeeper did not come through with the post acting as saviour for the hosts.
The referee signaled for full time soon after, bringing a successful, albeit challenging away trip to an end for Des Buckingham and Mumbai City with the Islanders running out 2-1 winners. Mumbai City travel straight to Bhubaneswar for their second consecutive league game on the road with Sergio Lobera’s Odisha FC up next on September 28 at the Kalinga Stadium.