East Bengal remains in last place with a 1-1 stalemate against NorthEast United

Marco Sahanek’s goal was not enough to secure three points for NorthEast United

Though temporarily, NorthEast United has avoided the tag of ‘last boys’ with a 1-1 draw against East Bengal in ‘Match 104’ of the 2021-22 Indian Super League season. Marco Sahanek’s goal gave the Highlanders a lead in the first half, but Antonio Perosevic’s strike helped the Red and Golds restore parity in the match.

East Bengal head coach Mario Rivera made three changes to the team lost 1-0 against Mumbai City. Raju Gaikwad, Bikash Jairu and Thongkhosiem Haokip were replaced by Hira Mondal, Huidrom Naocha Singh and Antonio Perosevic respectively.

On the other hand, NorthEast United head coach Khalid Jamil made two tweaks to his starting XI, both of them being forced changes. Mashoor Shereef and Hernan Santana, who were serving one-match suspensions, were replaced by Patrick Flottmann and VP Suhair respectively.

With both teams not having anything but pride on the line, we witnessed an attacking brand of football on display, albeit with a lack of quality. The first chance of the game fell to the Red and Golds in the 8th minute when Lalrianliana Hnamte went for glory from outside the box, but NorthEast United custodian Mirshad Michu was alert to avert the danger.

Nine minutes later, another East Bengal player in Naorem Mahesh tried his luck from outside the box but unluckily for him, his shot stayed out after hitting the crossbar. The series of long-range attempts with no direction continued, as in the 36th minute, Perosevic tried a volley from the edge of the box but his shot was not on target either.

All of these missed opportunities came back to haunt Rivera’s team as the Highlanders broke the deadlock just seconds before half-time. Suhair whipped in a cross from the right flank with Deshorn Brown being the intended target. The Jamaican striker could not get his head to the cross but the ball struck the woodwork and ricocheted nicely for Sahanek, who had the simplest of tasks of tucking it into an empty net.

Jamil’s team could have doubled their lead in the 50th minute when Joe Zoherliana played a fantastic ball for Brown, who did well to get past his marker but then saw his shot being saved by East Bengal goalkeeper Sankar Roy.

Antonio Perosevic’s penalty rescued a point for East Bengal

Antonio Perosevic’s penalty rescued a point for East Bengal

This time, it was the Highlanders’ turn to rue the missed opportunity as the Red and Golds equalized in the 55th minute from the penalty spot. The decision was controversial from referee Tejas Nagvenkar, as even though Fran Sota claimed he was brought down inside the box by Flottmann in an aerial battle, replays showed that the defender won the header. Perosevic stepped up to take the spot-kick and sent Mirshad the wrong way, making the scoreline one goal apiece.

The Croatian attacker could have scored his team’s second goal only ten minutes later when he got a shot in again but he could not get the better of Mirshad. Barely a minute later, Imran Khan found Zoherliana with a precise cross but the fullback failed to keep his header on target. Suhair also pulled the trigger in the 73rd minute, but he was denied a goal by a commendable save from Sankar.

With this draw, tenth-placed NorthEast United have called curtains to what has been a terrible season for them. East Bengal, on the other hand, remains in the eleventh position in the standings, but they are guaranteed the tenth position if they win against Bengaluru in their last match of the season on Saturday.