After conceding an early goal in the first half, Ranti Martins and Bernard Mendy's strikes helped East Bengal grab the lead in the second half. However, Ashutosh Mehta scored a late equalizer for Mumbai FC as they held on to a 2-2 draw at the Barasat Stadium on Tuesday.
With Mohun Bagan dropping points against Shillong Lajong in the early kick-off, East Bengal had a wonderful opportunity to go level on points with the defending champions with a win over the struggling Mumbai FC at the Barasat Stadium.
The home side controlled most of the possession at the start of the game, but failed to create any good opening in the final third of the pitch. Mumbai, on the other hand, dropped deep and worked hard to maintain their defensive shape. In fact, it was the away team who had the first shot on target in the 12th minute, as Steven Dias tested the goalkeeper with a fantastic free-kick from the edge of the box.
Two minutes later, East Bengal goalkeeper Luis Barreto conceded another free-kick, as he came out of the box to challenge for the ball with Sushil Singh. Steven Dias had another go at the goal, and once again he rolled back the clock with another fantastic strike. This time Barreto could do nothing about it, as the ball sailed into the top corner of the net to give Mumbai an unlikely 1-0 lead.
The goal was a wakeup call for the Red and Gold brigade. They pushed forward in numbers and with much more intent. Abhinash Ruidas drilled in a dangerous cross in the 24th minute, but Bernard Mendy's header went sizzling over the bar. A minute later, East Bengal found the equalizer they were looking for as Ranti Martins came to their rescue once again.
Sanju Pradhan found a lot of space on the right wing and went down the byline, before drilling in a cross for Martins inside the box. The ball bounced just in front of the striker, who thumped it into the far top corner of the net with a thunderous volley.
Few moments later, Mendy had a wonderful opportunity to provide his team with the lead, when he went one-on-one with the goalkeeper, after Ruidas picked him out with a delightful cross at the far post. However, the Frenchman's shot was directed straight at Kunal Sawant, who got his body behind the ball and kept it out from a close range.
Both the teams went into the half-time break tied at 1-1, and it was the away side who came out with a much more positive intent in the second half.
Sushil Kumar, who was mostly invisible in the first half, came to life after the restart and came close to scoring with two headers in the opening seven minutes. In the 58th minute, Kozawa was put through on goal down the left with a lovely through ball from Jayesh Rane, but the Japanese strike dragged his shot wide of the far post.
The fact that Mumbai could not score a goal when they were at the top proved costly in the end, as a minute later, Mendy gave East Bengal the lead for the first time in the match. The move started with Saumik Dey and Do Dong-Hyun, before the South Korean picked out Martins inside the box.
The Nigerian striker pulled the ball back for Mendy at the edge of the box. The Frenchman chested it down with his first touch, before blasting the ball into the right hand top corner of the goal with his second. The Barasat Stadium burst into frantic celebrations, as their team showed tremendous character to come back from a goal down and take the lead in such a crucial game.
However, the celebrations turned out to be a bit premature as Mumbai equalized through Ashutosh Mehta in the 77th minute, and it came against the run of play. Jayesh Rane picked out the Mumbai right back, who ghosted behind the East Bengal defence. Under no pressure from the defence, Ashutosh headed the ball into the back of the net, to silence the home crowd once again.
The match ended 2-2 as Mumbai managed to hold on to the draw in the final 10 minutes of the game. They are now two points behind Mohun Bagan with a match in hand, however, Bengaluru now have a golden opportunity to take control of the title race, if they manage to win against DSK Shivajians tomorrow.
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