A resilient and feisty display from Mumbai FC allowed them to split points with East Bengal after an interesting 2-2 draw in a rescheduled I-League encounter at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Following a goal-less first half, former East Bengal striker Yusif Yakubu gave Mumbai the lead but a quick-fire double from Ryuji Suoeka put the hosts in front.
The red-and-gold brigade were on course to record back-to-back I-League wins for the first time this season but a late equaliser from Ashutosh Mehta earned Mumbai their 12th draw of the campaign.
Both teams started brightly, looking to play positive, attacking football. East Bengal looked more likely to open the scoring with Edeh Chidi and Semilen Doungel going close as they forced saves off Mumbai keeper Kunal Sawant.
Mumbai also had their moments with Yakubu causing problems to the East Bengal back-line but their only real chance came towards the end of the half when Alfred Jaryan failed to hit the target despite being unmarked in the East Bengal box.
East Bengal nearly had a great opening before the interval but Doungel was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Anwar Ali.
The visitors should have taken the lead at the start of the second period when Jaryan had the goal at his mercy after Abhijit Mondal had saved Yakubu’s effort but the Liberian could only hit it straight at the East Bengal custodian.
Armando Colaco. the East Bengal tactician, introduced Ryuji Sueoka and Lalrindika Ralte but interestingly the deadlock was broken by Mumbai FC after the hour-mark as Yakubu scored with a audacious 50-yard lob. Yakubu’s daring strike caught goalkeeper Mondal completely off-guard as the glovesman who has way off his line could only watch as the ball sailed over him and into the back of the net.
But, East Bengal, equalised just five minutes later as Sueoka volleyed home a precise cross from Joaquim Abranches. Sueoka showed great technique to make a perfect connection to the cross and suddenly the hosts had momentum. From East Bengal’s next attack Sueoka made it 2-1 as he latched on to a pass from Abhishek Das and slotted the ball past a helpless Sawant.
It was a remarkable turnaround for East Bengal thanks to the heroics of Sueoka and the Japanese squandered a great chance to claim his hat-trick after being well set up by Ralte.
That miss proved to be costly as Mehta restored parity late on after being allowed the time and space in the East Bengal penalty box to shoot past Mondal. The result keeps East Bengal nine points behind leaders Bengaluru FC with only two games in hand now while Mumbai are now four points clear of rock-bottom Mohammedan Sporting and level with two other relegation contenders – Rangdajied United and United SC – with all three teams having played the same number of games.