Continuing their unbeaten run, debutants Real Kashmir held giants East Bengal to a 1-1 draw to climb to the summit of India’s premier I-league football tournament on Friday.
Eyeing a fourth win in a row in the year’s last fixture, East Bengal came out all guns blazing only to score an own goal when their fullback Lalram Chullova found his own net right after the break in his comeback match.
It was man-of-the-match Jobby Justin who levelled in the 56th minute to salvage one point for the red-and-gold brigade who slipped to fourth in the table with 16 points, with a game in hand.
The result meant that the first team from the trouble-torn Kashmir are unbeaten from six matches to climb past Chennai City on goal difference.
Three teams including Neroca FC, who defeated Mohun Bagan earlier Friday, are on 18 points.
The strong physical presence of the Snow Leopards made a difference early on as East Bengal found it tough to make inroads.
East Bengal’s leading scorer Justin curled in a cross from the right flank to set up Jaime Colado at the edge of the box but the Spaniard’s shot went over the bar early on.
Real Kashmir also had their chances when strikers Koffi Tetteh and Gnohere Krizo kept goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar on his toes with three shots on target between them just before the break.
Both the teams failed to found the target in the first half and it was much to the dismay of the 19000-odd strong East Bengal fans that Chullova deposited the ball into his own net after the changeover.
Kashmir midfielder Surchandra Singh sent a cross from the right flank and Chullova accidentally found his own net.
East Bengal looked desperate after conceding the goal and it was Laldanmawia Ralte who shot over the crossbar in the 49th minute.
Minutes later, Santos attempted a volley but the result was no different with the ball sailing over the crosspiece.
East Bengal continued to press hard and finally got the equaliser from a corner which Lalrindika Ralte swung in before Justin brought up his sixth goal from nine matches to salvage the draw.
Neroca FC pip Mohun Bagan 2-1, placed 2nd behind Real Kashmir
Imphal: Manipur’s Neroca FC beat Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan 2-1 in an exciting 10th round encounter of the I-League here on Friday, remaining in title hunt.
Brazilian defender Eduardo opened the scoring for the home side in the first half before Bagan’s Ugandan striker Henry Kisekka brought them back into the game in the second half.
But minutes later, Australian midfielder Aryn Williams deflected one into the Bagan net to secure three points for the hosts.
The result takes Neroca to 18 points from 10 games, equal with table-toppers Chennai City FC. Bagan will stay in the fifth place with 15 points from 10 games.
Coach Sankarlal Chakraborty made two changes to his starting XI from the previous game, giving the nod to Mumbai man Darren Caldiera in midfield for the very first time in place of Sourav Das. Abhishek Ambekar was also replaced with Gurjinder Kumar in defence.
For the home team, Spanish coach Manuel Fraile made just the one change to bring in Tondomba Singh in a straight mid-field swap with Saran Singh.
Mohun Bagan began on the offensive with Egyptian midfielder Omar, trying to control proceedings but it was the home team which took the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute, courtesy a header from Eduardo.
Former Bagan medio Katsumi got his third assist of the league, when Eduardo drilled in a header from the near post past Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Sankar Roy, off a corner taken by the Japanese.
In the 60th minute, Katsumi fed Subhash Singh inside the box on the right, but his effort hit the side-net.
Bagan then equalised through a brilliant Henry Kisekka header in the 63rd minute.
Ugandan Kisekka outjumped his marker at the far post to head home a Caldeira cross which beat Neroca custodian Lalit Thapa.
However, in the 69th minute, Neroca scored the winner through a flag-kick after Bagan defender Gurjinder bungled big time.
The ball, this time, found its way to Subhash, who rifled in a grounder which was headed towards goal from the edge of the box. Australian Aryn Williams got a touch in the melee and deflected it into the Bagan net.
It did not deter the hosts though and Malem missed a golden opportunity to put the game out of Bagan’s grasp in the 78th minute when another wonderful lay-off from Katsumi saw him in the clear inside the box. His effort lobbed way over the goal with just Sankar to beat.
Omar then missed an equally gilt-edged chance to equalise on the 80th minute. Dipanda Dicka layed it off for him beautifully on top of the box.
He had a clear sight at goal with the goalkeeper positioned right in the middle. His effort lacked both accuracy and direction as it sailed over.
The visitors kept trying and Dicka got an opportunity with a free header inside the box on the 85th minute, off an Omar free-kick, but failed to connect properly and it lobbed over the Neroca goal.
Manuele Fraile even took off Katsumi and Subhash in the closing stages of the game, but it was Neroca’s day. Eduardo was declared Man of the Match.