ISL 2020-21: Ashutosh Mehta and VP Suhair – Unsung heroes of NorthEast United this season

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The former Mohun Bagan duo has been a hit in NorthEast United’s right-flank this season…

Ashutosh Mehta has been a trusted lieutenant to Khalid Jamil for almost a decade now. The right-back started his professional career at Mumbai FC along with Jamil who started his coaching career (as a youth coach) in 2010 and ever since, he has spent most of his career with the Indian coach. 

In the 2016-17 season when Jamil ended his association with Mumbai FC and joined Aizawl FC for a new challenge, the first player he wanted to sign at his new club from his former employers was Mehta. 

Joining Aizawl FC, a club that were relegated just a season back, at the peak of his career was a big gamble for Mehta but he did not think twice before following his coach to the new club. The decision eventually proved to be a blessing for the player as Khalid and his team went to script history by winning the I-League title as an underdog. 

After a gap of three seasons, the right-back once again reunited with his coach at NorthEast United in the Indian Super League (ISL). Initially, as an assistant coach of the club, Jamil was in charge of putting together the Highlanders’ Indian squad this season and he once again chose to sign his old pupil. 

Manuel Onwu, Ashutosh Mehta, Odisha vs NorthEast United

Since last season Mehta has been a player on the rise. He was an integral part of Kibu Vicuna’s Mohun Bagan side which lifted their fifth I-League title. The Mumbai-based defender carried his form to NorthEast United this season and has been a mainstay in their starting lineup for the majority of the league stage. 

In the 16 matches he has played this season so far, the former Aizawl FC defender has managed to score a goal and provide two assists. Defensively, he made 51 tackles, 20 interceptions, 47 clearances and 23 blocks. He also gave 17 crosses and took seven shots on goal. 

The statistics clearly show how influential the player has been to this NorthEast United side. The only goal he scored was against Jamshedpur FC where he broke the deadlock with a quality header from a Federico Gallego corner. It was only fitting the Mehta scored the first goal in Khalid Jamil’s maiden match as the club’s head coach after he replaced Gerard Nus at the helm in the middle of the season. 

Along with Ashutosh Mehta, another former pupil of Khalid Jamil who reunited with him at NorthEast United this season is VP Suhair. The Kerala-born striker turned winger had earlier played under Jamil at East Bengal in the 2017-18 season. 

NorthEast United VP Suhair

Suhair enjoyed brief success under Jamil at East Bengal at the beginning of that season at East Bengal but his stint was shortlived with the Kolkata giants due to an injury before the I-League campaign began. 

After a gap of two seasons, Jamil once again decided to sign his former protégé who also was an integral part of Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning season last year. 

The winger-cum-striker has played in 17 matches this season in the ISL and has scored two goals and provided one assist. Be in under Nus or Jamil, the former Mohun Bagan player has been a vital cog in the Highlanders’ attack. Suhair’s work-rate and mobility on the pitch has helped him to keep his place in the team’s starting lineup throughout the season. He has completed 16 crosses, 332 passes and made 59 tackles and 19 interceptions. This reflects the player’s all-round contribution to his team. 

Amidst stars like Deshorn Brown, Federico Gallego, Luis Machado and Benjamin Lambot, the two Indian players on the right side Ashutosh Mehta and VP Suhair are without a doubt the silent heroes of Khalid Jamil’s NorthEast United. 

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