The I-League now looks like a toss up between East Bengal and Dempo- with Churchill having an outside chance- as Dempo virtually ended Mohun Bagan’s hopes of their first crown sine 2002-03 securing a point in an entertaining and hard fought 2-2 draw at the Salt Lake stadium.
Dempo playing with only one change from their game against HAL- Clifford Miranda coming back for Peter Carvalho- took the lead as early as the fifth minute as Ranti Martins coolly converted from the spot after Nabi was adjudged to have handled the ball. Before that however there was a glaring miss by Koko Sakibo. The early lead for Dempo seemed to galvanise the crowd and the game went to another level thereafter. Subrata Bhattacharya- realizing the importance of a win put out an extremely attacking line-up. He played a 4-3-3 formation handing starts to all three of his explosive strikers- Odafa, Jose Barreto and Sunil Chhetri. Jewel Raja sat just behind the three strikers while Rakesh Masih broke down attacks from midfield.
With such an attacking line-up, the Dempo defense was bound to be under pressure and they were awarded a dubious penalty when the referee ruled that Mahesh Gawli had handled the ball inside the box. The resultant penalty however was smacked against the post by Odafa. The penalty saw an ugly confrontation between the Bagan players. At one point of time Naabi virtually had both his hands on the referee.
Just when everyone thought that Oadaf and Bagan were going o have a bad day at the office, the highest paid footballer in India showed his class when he received the ball from Sunil Chhetri, beat the challenge of Samir Naik, rounded off the keeper and slotted home much to the delight of the home crowd.
It was end to end stuff from there on as both teams played great attacking football and the crowd was treated to some entertaining play.
The Mariners then took the lead in the 34th minute and it was all due to the brilliance of Odafa. The Nigerian despite being under pressure from Cresson Antao and Mahesh Gawli, made an inch of space for himself and then shot fircely past Subhasish Roy Chowdhury into the side netting, to score his 22nd goal of the season. From there on Bagan dominated proceedings until the half time whistle and they were unlucky not to increase their lead- Odafa missing two glorious opportunities.
In the second half the game slowed down but nevertheless, Bagan had two brilliant chances to stretch their lead yet again. In the 53rd minute a brilliant through ball from Chhetri almost found Odafa but an alert Subhasish Roy sprinted out and collected to thwart he danger. A similar chance went a begging in the 62nd minute when again the Chhetri-Odafa combine worked beautifully but Subhasish was there to collect the ball in the nick of time.
Just when it seemed Bagan would hold on for a win, a harmless looking ball was controlled by Ranti who flicked on to Koko who in turn toe poked it past Shilton Paul to give Dempo the equalizer. Two minutes later there were shouts of a penalty but the referee didn’t oblige the Bagan fans this time. The last five minutes saw Dempo creating some very good chances- first Climax missing an easy chance and then Ranti’s shot was saved by keeper Shilton Paul. In the end a draw was probably a fair result. Dempo now enjoy a six point lead against East Bengaland will play their next match on the 11th of April against Churchill Brothers.