Helder Postiga-inspired Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) zoomed to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) points table with a come-from-behind win against NorthEast United at the Indira Gandhi Stadium Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.
Postiga (63), playing after four matches, came on in the second half to level proceedings after Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro (39) had given the home team a first half lead.
Juan Belecoso (82) prodded home the winner late into the match as ATK head coach Jose Molina -- serving a one-match suspension -- watched from the stands as the inaugural champions logged 12 points from seven games.
Following the loss, NorthEast remained on 10 points from seven matches to be relegated by a place to third position.
Hosts’ goalkeeper Subrata Paul picked up an injury in the 74th minute and was replaced by Wellington De Lima Gomes.
There were a flurry of chances from the NorthEast after falling behind but the visitors held firm.
NorthEast made three changes, Shouvik Ghosh being dropped and Romaric and Nicolas Velez injured. Robin Gurung, Wellington Roca and Robert Cullen replaced the trio.
ATK dropped forward Iain Hume after a series of poor performances along with Robert Lalthlamuana, Tiri, Abinash Ruidas making way for Pritam Kotal, Henrique Sereno, Lalrindika Ralte and Belencoso.
Debjit Mazumdar belied his recent form to flounder twice inside the first 10 minutes.
The visitors were lucky to not fall behind as early as in the fifth minute when a horrible mix up between Arnab Mondal and Debjit almost gifted Alfaro his fifth goal of the campaign.
Few minutes later, the Mohun Bagan custodian failed to collect a regulation catch from a corner.
There was no improvement on show in ATK’s play as Doutie on the right was often found out of options ahead of him passing backwards instead. Javi Lara, playing in the hole behind Belencoso, looked ragged too as the hosts used the width of the pitch to good effect.
From one such move down the left flank, Nirmal Chettri played one-two with Yusa Katsumi to deliver a pin-point cross for Alfaro who found space to nod home between centre-backs Arnab Mondal and Sereno.
In between the goal and the slack defending in the initial exchanges, Belencoso’s close-range shot clattered into Gustavo Lazzaretti and at the other end Alfaro was stopped in his tracks by Debjit which the former called for penalty as at halftime, NorthEast led by the solitary goal.
Stung by the goal and the prospect of a second consecutive defeat, Postiga took the field after 45 odd minutes replacing Doutie. Prabir Das made way for Robert at left-back too.
Moments after coming on, the Portuguese was involved into two moves, first provider then with a chance to score. In the first occasion, Belencoso skewed his header over while hosts’ marquee Didier Zokora denied his counterpart with a swipe at goal.
Three minutes into the hour-mark, Postiga got the better of Zokora to head in his first goal of the third edition after Ralte flaoted in a good cross from the left.
North East were dealt a blow in the 74th minute when veteran keeper Pal injured himself while trying to collect a Ralte cross which found Belencoso in an offside position.
ATK reaped dividends of their industry in the 82nd minute when the superb Ralte squared for an unmarked Belencoso who tapped the ball into an empty net, marking the eventual winning strike.