The first red card of ISL 2020-21 proved to be a turning point as the relatively inexperienced NorthEast United managed to beat a bolstered Mumbai City FC.
The Spaniard, though, passed his maiden test on Indian soil with flying colours, guiding his team to a 1-0 win over Mumbai City FC side in the second match of ISL 2020-21 on Saturday.
For the former Liverpool FC academy coach, it was a baptism of fire coming up against a mighty Mumbai City FC side in his very first official match in a new country.
“When you start a new season, it’s always nice to start with three points. We knew what to expect from a brilliant side like Mumbai City FC and we followed our plan and did a fantastic job. I’m so pleased with all my players,” Gerard Nus said after the match.
With City Football Group - owners of Premier League giants Manchester City - acquiring a majority stake in Mumbai City FC, the Islanders have strengthened heavily this season with the addition of some big-name players like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Hugo Boumous, Adam Le Fondre, Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall.
Mumbai City FC are also being coached by Sergio Lobera, who has been coaching in India for the past three years and is regarded as one of the most attack-minded tacticians to have coached in the country. On paper, Mumbai are one of the favourites to clinch the ISL this season.
Comparatively, Nus' NorthEast is largely an inexperienced unit, with the entire 28-member-squad sharing just 199 ISL caps - considerably lower than any other ISL team this season- between them before Saturday's match.
Against a well-experienced and star-studded Mumbai in his debut ISL assignment, Nus needed a plan, his players stepping up and a bit of luck. He had all three.
NorthEast weathered an early onslaught from Mumbai, with the entire team working in tandem to keep its shape and deny the favourites any clearcut openings.
The rub of the green finally went Nus' way towards the end of the half-time as Mumbai's midfield general Ahmed Jahouh was sent off after seeing a straight red card – the first of the season - for a lunging tackle from behind.
Mumbai coach Lobera himself conceded the sending off was the turning point of the match. “It was a big problem for us... I believe that the red card changed the game and playing with 10 men and missing a big player like Jahouh,” he said.
While a draw would have been a good result for NorthEast, there was an opening on offer and Nus didn't hesitate to press the numerical advantage.
The Highlanders showed a lot more adventure in the second half and were rewarded for it in the 49th minute with a penalty, which their Ghanaian recruit Kwesi Appiah promptly dispatched to score the winner.
Despite being a man up, NorthEast's defensive workrate didn't go down either as they denied Mumbai a single shot on target in the entire match. It was the first time in ISL history, a Sergio Lobera side had failed to register a single shot on goal.
“If you relax, then a team like Mumbai will punish you so we had the right mentality, were switched on all the time and were very strong,” Nus reflected on the disciplined performance.
It was a big debut win for Nus, but the Spaniard is already braced for tougher challenges ahead and his mantra for success – never give up.
“We are going to be a team that fights, we will never give up and that’s what we saw,” Nus stated.