NorthEast United and FC Goa did not really have the best of defences in the 2017-18 Indian Super League (ISL) season despite enjoying vastly different campaigns. The Highlanders had the wooden spoon to show for their efforts while FC Goa lost out in the play-offs.
NorthEast United shipped 27 goals in 18 games but the most striking fact was that they last kept a clean sheet 15 matches ago prior to this game in the league. In FC Goa's case, they shipped 28 goals in 18 games in the league stage before conceding four more in the two succeeding play-off matches. Only their superior attack bailed them out on many occasions.
Naturally, shoring up the defence should have been high on the agenda for both these teams as they went into the fifth season of the ISL. We have seen efforts to do that with NorthEast bringing on board Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski in central defence while FC Goa had signed Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena.
But Monday's 2-2 draw in Guwahati just highlights the work still left to do for both teams.
The opening goal was as comical as it was controversial. Young Mohammad Nawaz, handed a surprise start in the FC Goa goal in place of the erroneous Laxmikant Kattimani and Lalthhuammawia Ralte who was not impressive in the pre-season game against Indian Arrows, hared out of his area to clear a long ball. But Bartholomew Ogbeche who was chasing it was clearly offside and had pulled out.
But Nawaz, assuming that the referee had blown the whistle, handled the ball and rolled it down to take a freekick. The referee promptly handed NorthEast the freekick and an alert Fernando Gallego chipped the ball over the goalkeeper, who was yards off his line, into the goal.
Ogbeche was offside and it could be questioned why the referee did not blow the whistle since the goalkeeper came out of his area only because the striker was initially chasing the ball. But it was stupid of Nawaz to handle it outside his area without hearing the whistle. Even more baffling was the fact that none of the FC Goa players made an attempt to prevent the quick free-kick. And the ball was still rolling when Gallego took the freekick, something that was not noticed by the referee.
Also, if a free-kick was given for Nawaz handling the ball, he should have been at least booked.
FC Goa's equaliser stemmed from an error from TP Rehenesh who has made quite a few of them in the previous seasons. He stayed true to his nature by jumping out to claim a cross and completely missed it, leaving Ferran Corominas to bundle it in.
There were also suspicions of handball in that goal, with the ball striking Coro's arm before rolling off his thighs into the goal. It was not spotted but the fault for the goal lies solely with Rehenesh and his lack of judgement.
Rehenesh would showcase that (or the lack of it) one more time as he came to claim a long ball at the edge of his box and in the meanwhile stepped out with the ball in his hands. Thankfully, nothing came off the free-kick.
There would be another talking point when Jose Leudo brought down Hugo Boumous inside the penalty box just when the Moroccan was about to pull the trigger. It was a concrete penalty but the referee chose not to give it.
Such incidents do give rise to the question whether ISL should introduce the VAR.
Both teams would go on to score a goal a piece and end the match in a deserved draw. But the fact is a lot of work needs to be done at the back for either team.