FC Pune City rose to just a point behind leaders Chennaiyin FC on the 2017/18 Indian Super League (ISL) table courtesy a 5-0 victory at home over NorthEast United FC in Pune on Saturday.
Hat-trick hero Marcelinho scored twice in the first half and one in the second. However, it was Ashique Kuruniyan who opened the scoring early on as Adil Khan sealed the deal in the 88th minute.
The hosts, without their manager Ranko Popovic, serving the first of his four-game suspension made just one change from their 2-0 win over at FC Goa. Jonatan Lucca who came off the bench to score a goal forced his way in as Diego Carlos was not even included on the bench.
On the other hand, Joao De Deus had five alterations to his starting eleven. As he welcomed back custodian Rehenesh TP after suspension, Abdul Hakku, Malemnganba Meitei, Lalrindika Ralte and Danilo Lopes Cezario were brought in place of Nirmal Chettri, Seiminlen Doungel, Halicharan Narzary and Luis Alfonso Paes.
The Brazilian Marcinho almost sniffed out a goal as he intercepted Rafa Lopez's ball near the centre circle and sprinted all the way into the box only to shoot straight into Vishal Kaith's palms as the India U21 international palmed away the ball easily in the eighth minute.
However, on the counter, Jonatan Lucca ran past a clueless Abdul Hakku from the left and squared the ball for Emiliano Alfaro who found an unmarked Ashique Kuruniyan inside the six-yard box. The youngster hardly moved a muscle to deftly chipped the ball into the net to break the deadlock nice and early.
The Kerala-born Kuruniyan had another chance minutes later but he could only hit over the bar from yet another Alfaro cross. Aggravating the blow for the John Abraham-owned side was the withdrawal of Lalrindika Ralte owing to an injury as Seiminlen Doungel was introduced just past the quarter of an hour mark.
NorthEast United put the foot on the gas soon after but their attacks lacked the finishing touch as all both Danilo and Rowllin Borges' efforts failed to test Kaith. Marcinho could have easily equalised from a well-driven long ball but the former Corinthians man rose the tallest inside the box to only head wide.
Rowllin Borges fouled Marcelinho five yards outside the danger area and that made matters only worse for the visitors. A left-footed free-kick went curling past a hapless Rehenesh to provide the spectators with a goal of the highest order as the Brazilian had doubled the lead inside half an hour.
Just as the first period of regulation time was about to draw to a close, Rehenesh TP was guilty of gifting the third of the night in a comical fashion. Marcelinho had drifted wide in quest of delivering the ball to an onrushing Alfaro. Rehenesh did get to the ball but it slipped right through his gloves and between his legs to leave De Deus fuming at the break, 3-0 down.
There were no major amends from the men in white who only had two players - Marcinho and Danilo trying hard to get any sort of consolation after the resumption. The gulf in class was quite evident as most of their attacks went lull entering the final third. However, Kaith had to make a diving save in the 69th minute when Danilo's header from a Marcinho freekick had the former Shillong Lajong man called into action.
While it looked like the floodgates had closed much to NorthEast's relief despite FC Pune City dictating the game, Jewel Raja Shaikh's introduction resulted in a flurry of chances, one which he was ruled offside and the latter he missed from handshaking distance to convert.
The fourth of the night did arrive with Marcelinho completed his hat-trick. A chip from the centre of the park by Marcos Tebar had the former Delhi Dynamos man beating second-half substitute Gursimrat Singh Gill to dash into the box and slot it inside his nearpost as he was soon taken off to give Robertino Pugliara a run-out.
A couple of minutes later, defensive midfielder Adil Khan popped inside the box to keep his knack of scoring goals intact to bring up his third of the season - thus rounding up the shambolic day for the NorthEast United defense.
The Arjun Kapoor co-owned side now have fifteen points in their kitty as they move to the second spot. NorthEast United FC will end the year with a sour taste in the mouth as they are yet to score against any team other than bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos as their hopes of making it into the playoffs now seeming distant than ever.