Kochi: Ten-man NorthEast United FC stood firm to play out a goalless draw and deny Kerala Blasters FC a chance to end their Indian Super League campaign with a win, here Wednesday.
Having already secured a spot in the playoff, NorthEast confirmed the fourth place in the standings with 29 points from 18 games and will now face Bengaluru FC in the semi-final.
FC Goa will face Mumbai City FC in the other semi-final.
Blasters ended their league season in the ninth spot with just two wins and 15 points after 18 matches.
Twelve minutes into the game, Matej Poplatnik dribbled forward down the left and chipped the ball to Courage Pekuson at the edge of the box. The Ghanaian midfielder chested it down before hitting a fine volley that flew inches wide.
NorthEast coach Eelco Schattorie was forced to field a weakened side and his woes were compounded when centre-back Gurwinder Singh was sent off in the 23rd minute.
Rowllin Borges slotted in at right-back as the visitors sat back and hoped to catch the hosts on the break. Pekuson went close again before the break as he shimmied away from Borges and cut in from the left flank but his low driven shot ricocheted off the inside of the post.
Doungel was sent clear on goal at the stroke of half-time but an excellent save by Pawan Kumar kept the scoreline unchanged.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, NorthEast had the Blasters defence in a spot of bother early on after the break.
Blasters found it easier to counter and used the space in behind the opposition’s defence. Pekuson darted forward and crossed for Seiminlen Doungel who chested it down for Stojanovic to shoot in the 58th minute.
The effort was parried away bravely by the NorthEast custodian who kept the visitors in the match.