Antonio Habas was just minutes away from registering his first ever playoff victory in the seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL). But then, Idrissa Sylla led a stoppage-time goal to hold Northeastern United hold ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) 1-1 at the GMC Stadium on Saturday.
A second-half substitute to cancel David Williams' 34th minute goal was struck in the fourth minute of injury time. The result also meant that Khalid Jamil was still invincible in the competition and extended NorthEast's winning run to ten games.
With two teams known for similar styles, the match was expected to have a serious relationship and it was. Both sides relied on the counters, knowing how difficult it would be to break each other's defenses.
It was an end-to-end duel, but neither side was able to test those on either side. It was NorthEast who enjoyed superior possession. However, Bagan made his first shot to the target and it came soon after the water broke. The goal had a touch of class.
Roy Krishna gets a long ball to the side of the box. The Fijian banished his strike partner David Williams, who first shot NEUFC defender Dylan fox in the wrong direction. He then took a touch before closing the house to benefit ATKMB.
NorthEast came close to scoring fast, but the woodwork was ruled out. Federico Gallego delivered a complete freekick in the area where Ashutosh Mehta leaped high for his header only to climb against the crossbar. The Highlanders were the closest to scoring in the first season.
As expected, the Mariners tightened the screws on the Highlanders, defending and blocking everything that was thrown at them that made it difficult for their opponents to score.
However, they were lucky not to see a man to leave. Luis Machado chased a long ball out of the area, edging out planter keeper Arindam Bhattacharya. However, the referee rejected any appeals for dishonesty, although Ripley suggested that the keeper made contact with Machado.
Galileo, of NorthEast, was a constant supplier who sent quality deliveries from set-pieces to the box, but his teammates did not finish.
Meanwhile, Prabir Das had a few attempts. While one was easily swallowed by Subhashish Roy, the other went on.
Jamil bid to get Idrissa Sayla and Brito PM to compete. They held sewing passes together but the Mariners worked hard from behind.
The Highlanders were likely to be late in the game. But Fox saw his header cleared of danger by Pronay Halder, while Sylla tried from a long distance but barely troubled Arindam.
Finally, in the fourth minute of extra time, there was a goal to celebrate at NorthEast Camp, credited to Silla, who made his presence felt with a late equalizer shaking his head in Luis Machado's cross.
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