NorthEast United held on to steal a 1-1 result against Jamshedpur FC, their second consecutive draw at home in the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.
Bartholomew Ogbeche (20') opened the scoring while Farukh Choudhary (49') scored the second half equaliser. The Highlanders had to play the second forty-five with ten men as a result of Mislav Komorski's sending off right before the half-time whistle.
NorthEast United went back to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) table with eight points as Bengaluru FC and FC Goa have a game in hand, just a point behind.
Having made their best ever start to an ISL season, Eelco Schattorie saw no reason to tinker with his lineup.
Cesar Ferrando made six changes from their 1-1 draw at home against ATK. India internationals Choudhary and Sumeet Passi started for the first time together, the latter returning to face his former employers. Pablo Morgado also made his full debut for the club.
Subrata Paul walked in at his former stomping ground after serving out his suspension from last season’s Super Cup. Tim Cahill was named on the bench with Jerry Mawihmingthanga missing from the matchday squad.
The first goalmouth action turned out to be the deadlock-breaker from Ogbeche. Nikhil’s cross in took a deflection off Pratik Chowdhary to Mario Arques. Federico Gallego then dispossessed him inside the box, sticking a leg in.
Ogbeche turned and kept the ball with a sublime first touch inside the six-yard box. He wrong-footed the defender and slotted the ball through Pratik’s legs to bring up his fifth goal of the season.
A couple of minutes later, Carlos Calvo’s supposed cross into the box kissed the NorthEast United crosspiece with Pawan Kumar unable to get any finger to it.
Jamshedpur’s build-up play remained excellent throughout but were unable to breach the solid home defense. They did not register any shots on goal in the first half as well.
Right before the half-time break, the Highlanders were reduced to ten men. Komorski elbowed Pablo Morgado on the face during a Jamshedpur counter attack. Linesman Subrata Burman spotted it and he brought that up with referee R Palmson Moses Raj who did not hesitate to show the Croatian the red card.
That spelt change of tactics after the change of ends. Defender Gurwinder Singh came on for Nikhil Kadam to maintain a four-man backline for the hosts. Ferrando went attacking as he introduced Michael Soosairaj for Pratik.
Dividends paid off immediately as Morgado on the left overpowered Reagan Singh. His cross into the box saw Farukh rush across Robert Lalthlamuana and slam the ball into the roof of the net on the volley with his weaker left foot.
Ferrando put in Cahill in hopes to find the winner but NorthEast soaked up the pressure inside their box well. The game became dormant in major chunks as the hosts seemed happy running down the clock to win a point.
Michael Soosairaj came from the bench to shoot right into the 'keeper's hand with ten minutes to go as the away side would have rued their profligacy in the final third.
Jamshedpur also remained unbeaten with six points. The fourth-placed team go back and play host to Kerala Blasters on Monday. NorthEast travel to Delhi a day later.