The Highlanders equalised in the 85th minute to break the hearts of the Red and Gold Brigade.
NorthEast United FC pocketed their first points on the road this season in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) after an exhilarating 3-3 draw with East Bengal FC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium on Wednesday. Cleiton Silva launched himself to the top of the goal-scoring charts after bagging a brace, while Jake Jervis opened his Hero ISL account with a spectacular equaliser in first-half stoppage time. Goals from Parthib Gogoi, Jithin MS and substitute Imran Khan handed the Highlanders their first away point.
The Highlanders were chasing the game as early as the 10th minute, when Jerry Lalrinzuala got a cross in to find Silva, who got ahead of Mashoor Shereef and headed the opening goal at the near post.
At the half-hour mark, a stunning effort from Parthib levelled the scores. Tondoba’s cross from the left flank picked up a deflection on its way to him at the edge of the box. Parthib took a touch, adjusted his footing and smashed it into the top-right corner.
Three minutes after the equaliser, the game turned on its head after East Bengal FC were caught napping on the counter, seconds after appeals for a penalty. Against the run of play, Romain Philippoteaux put Jithin through on goal and the attacker kept his composure before slotting it past Kamaljit Singh.
In first-half stoppage time, the Torch Bearers pulled themselves back on level terms in spectacular fashion. The Highlanders’ defence failed to clear a long throw-in into the box and it bounced perfectly for Jervis to score his first goal for his new club with a sublime overhead kick.
In the second half, around the hour-mark, Passi crossed the ball in from the right flank and Silva was deemed to have been fouled by Saji before he could get anything on the ball. The referee pointed to the spot and Silva stepped up to send Arindam Bhattacharja the wrong way to put the Torch Bearers ahead again.
The substitutes started making an impact in the closing stages of the game. As the Highlanders crowded the East Bengal FC penalty area, Gani Nigam’s cross from the right flank was powered into the back of the net by Imran Khan in the 85th minute.
At the other end, the Torch Bearers went hunting for an instant response with their substitute Jordan O’Doherty, with one of the midfielder’s long-range strikes being palmed over the bar by Bhattacharja. The Highlanders prowled forward and tried to go for the jugular in stoppage time but had to settle for a solitary point.
East Bengal FC are now two points behind their next opponents, Chennaiyin FC, and effectively at the end of their playoff race. The Marina Arena host that encounter on February 12. NorthEast United FC are now guaranteed a bottom-placed finish, but will be looking to spoil the playoff party for Odisha FC when the two sides meet on February 17.
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