A depleted Atletico de Kolkata, without star forward Fikru Teferra, put up a spirited show but could not score that elusive winner settling for a 1-1 draw against a lucky Kerala Blasters FC in their fifth ISL encounter at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Atletico maintained their top position in the league table with 11 points from five games while Blasters earned their first point in third game.
Baljit Sahni gave the lead in the 22nd minute with a powerful angular right-footer beating David James’ outstretched hands.
Minutes later, Atletico could have easily doubled the lead when Jofre gathered a good long ball on the left flank and crossed it to their sole striker Arnal Llibert near the six-yard box but it was blocked by the KBFC defender Cedric Hengbart much to the home team’s dismay.
Just when Atletico looked to press further KBFC struck the equaliser from nowhere with former Championship goal poacher Iain Hume again being the scorer, when he converted the opportunity with a smart finish beating a surging Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the 41st minute of the match.
Luck too deserted Atletico as they failed to bring up the winner despite a superb effort by Baljit who clearly had a field day in absence of their star players.
It was the horizontal that came to Blasters’ rescue after a stunning shot by Baljit in the six-yard box went past an aerial James only to hit the woodwork.
There were some last minute drama with Atletico pressing for the winner but the 6 feet 5 inches tall James ensured that Blasters returned with a point.
No sooner the equaliser came in the Atletico players started indulging in rough play with tough tackles becoming the order of the day.
Kingshuk Debnath nearly missed a yellow or may be a red after jabbing Stephen Pearson whose shin guard came out after the tackle as referee A Rowan failed to spot it.
But Atletico had their share of yellow cards after Baljit and substitute Rakesh Masih were cautioned in the second-half.
Suspension blow meant that ATK had a string of changes both in the starting XI and in the officials bench where assistant coach Angel Diaz Barrachina supervised the proceedings in place of marquee manager Antonio Habas (four-match suspension) and goalkeeping coach Predipkumar Bhaktawer (one match).
The absence of their mercurial forward Fikru (two-match) meant Llibert started up front, while Debnath too began in the right back in place of Denzil Franco (injury) as the team also brought in goalkeeper Subhasish, who sat out against FC Goa in place of Edel.
Their marquee player Luis Garcia who is recovering from a hamstring injury too failed to make the 18 as ATK had to field five foreigners in the XI.
But what remained unchanged was their 4-2-3-1 formation with Arnal taking the place of Fikru as a solitary attacking forward.
Their measured passing and compact display too remained the same way even as Atletico hit hard by the suspension blues, were cautious to start with against a team that struggled for possession and had Canadian recruit Iain Hume as the one-man Army with little support from the rest.
The watchful Kolkata franchise relied mostly on the counterattacks and the deadlock was broken near the half-an hour mark after a great team effort by Jofre Mateu and Borja Fernandez led to Baljit’s first goal of the ISL.
It was a selfless play by the Spanish duo to give the perfect chance to Baljit and the Indian youngster did not disappoint slamming home the lead.