Ishfaq Ahmed scored the vital equaliser against his former side after Penn Orji scored the opener against Dempo, for whom John Menyongar and Joy Ferrao found the target...Besides losing out in the I-League title race, East Bengal's hopes of finishing second this season suffered a jolt as they could only pick a point against the defending champions Dempo SC on Saturday evening at the Tilak Maidan, Goa.
Penn Orji had put the away side into the lead in the 17th minute before Joy Ferrao (48') and John Menyongar (74') put Dempo ahead in the second half. However, Ishfaq Ahmed popped up with an equaliser in the 83rd minute to deny the home side.
Cresson Antao returned from suspension for the home team while Ryuji Sueoka and Koko Sakibo started as the two strikers.
Mehtab Hussain was welcomed into the line-up after serving his suspension by Trevor Morgan who handed Baljit Singh a chance to partner Chidi Edeh in attack.
East Bengal began the match on a comfortable note moving the ball around the park while Dempo hardly had a spell of decent possession whatsoever for much of the first half.
Chidi squared the ball for team-mate Penn in the ninth minute, but the latter's shot went into the orbit. He did however make amends as he twisted and carved his way around at least three white shirts before coolly placing the ball past Subasish Roychowdhury.
In one of the rare instances when the Golden Eagles had a chance, Sueoka was overcrowded in the opposition box as the Japanese was kept in check through-out by Uga Okpara and Gurwinder Singh.
After the break, it was Joy Ferrao, who had come in for Clifford Miranda at the start of the first half, who nodded in a Godwin Franco free-kick to score the equaliser. Peter Carvalho accidentally crashed against the post in the same melee and hurt his jaw in the process.
At the hour mark, Sueoka's good run down the left flank saw him float the ball across to Ferrao on the far side, whose center saw Sakibo fail to control the ball and miss an important opportunity to score.
Three minutes later, a powerful right-footer by Chidi was tipped above his post by Dempo keeper Roychowdhury.
John Menyongar, who was brought in place of Carvalho, gave Dempo the lead for the first time in the match, after the Liberian snatched the ball from the opponent's grasp and charged ahead to beat Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the 74th minute.
East Bengal's Andrew Barisic could have seen his name on the scoresheet in the very same minute when he was brought in for Penn Orji, but the Australian striker headed wide from handshaking distance from a Chidi cross in the 77th minute.
East Bengal came back in the match through substitute Ishfaq Ahmed who converted his chance after being set-up by Barisic in the 83rd minute, as the former got the better of Roychowdhury in an one-on-one situation.
With the point, Armando Colaco's side are all set for a fifth place finish this season, with 41 points from 25 matches.
East Bengal (44) meanwhile have two matches in hand, and will hope for Pune FC (49) to drop points in their last match, while Churchill Brothers (51) can seal the title with a point against Mohun Bagan on Tuesday.
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