Frincis Okechukwu scored a late equaliser for Churchill Brothers as they drew 1-1 against Gokulam Kerala at the Tilak Maidan in Goa on Saturday. Henry Kisekka opened the scoring on the 72nd minute for Gokulam Kerala only to be cancelled late into the injury time by a goal from new recruit Frincis.
Alfred Fernandes made four changes, two being forced, to the side that suffered 3-1 defeat by Chennai City in their previous game. Mechac Koffi and Kalu Ogba have been ruled out for the season due to injury. They were replaced by Jeancy Siyo and Francis Okechukwu. Nicholas Fernandes and Britto PM were also relegated to the bench as they made way for Richard Costa and Wayne Vaz.
Whereas Bino George decided to alter two players from the line-up that beat Minerva Punjab 1-0 in Panchkula. They welcomed back U Chigozie in defence. Mohammed Irshad also made a comeback from suspension and donned the skipper's armband for Gokulam. Mudde Musa partnered Arjun Jayaraj in a four man midfield with Henry Kisekka and Kivi Zhimomi leading the attack.
The first chance of the game fell for the visitors when Arjun was fouled from behind by Israil Gurung and the resultant free-kick found the head of Prabhat Lakra. The defender jumped the highest but could not provide direction to his header which went out for a goal-kick.
Churchill Brothers could have drawn first blood only if Siyo could have managed a touch on the ball after it was served on a platter for him by Francis from the right.
Both the teams were playing end-to-end football but lacked imagination in the attacking third.
Churchill Brothers suffered another injury scare in the early stages of the match as Osagie Monday had to limp out of the field around the half-hour mark after a trailing leg from Salman caught the defender's right knee.
Kivi could have found his name on the score-sheet if he had converted a half chance with a volley from just outside the box after playing a give-and-go with Arjun down the middle.
Lakra's effort from distance was creeping into the near post but Churchill's James Kithan stuck out a hand to prevent it from going in at the expense of a corner.
It was an insipid affair for the bulk of the opening 45 minutes and Churchill Brothers in spite of fielding more attacking players could not break the deadlock.
Gokulam started on the front foot in the second half as well as Kivi had the first sight of goal within the first five minutes of resumption but saw his effort go into the orbit.
Churchill used a midfield diamond with two strikers upfront, which is different to their conventional playing style. This left Siyo and Francis begging for supply from the midfield as they were closely marked by Chigozie and Daniel Addo.
Just before the hour-mark, the Goan side could have taken the lead when Francis floated in a perfect ball from the right but the defensive pairing of Addo and Chigozie smothered the delivery even before Siyo could get his head to it.
It was another calm and composed finish from Henry Kisekka when the Ugandan hitman played a one-two with substitute Al-Ajmi before slotting it past Kithan.
Bino Georges's men could have gone 2-0 up within minutes as Arjun Jayaraj's header bumped against the crossbar with Kithan rooted to his spot.
Bilal Khan had to make the first save of the day in the dying embers of the game when Eldor's header was directed towards goal from a brilliant delivery by Ceesay.
Frincis scored an injury time goal for Churchill Brothers as he got past two defenders and outfoxed Bilal who failed to collect the ball cleanly. The Nigerian snatched the ball back, kept his balance to rifle a shot into the net.
Churchill Brothers would next host Mohun Bagan at home on March 3 whereas Bino George's men will continue their journey on the road as they next travel to Aizawl to face the defending champions.