NorthEast United FC defender Shouvick Ghosh poured cold water on Chennaiyin FC’s plans to keep their semifinal hopes alive by scoring a stoppage-time equaliser in a pulsating Indian Super League (ISL) match which ended 3-3 at the Jawaharlal Stadium here on Saturday.
Nigerian Dudu Omagbemi’s hattrick all but bolstered the hosts’ chances of making the playoffs but Shouvick leaped highest to meet Nico Velez’s inswinging corner and make sure the Argentine’s brace did not go in vain. In the process he enhanced the Nelo Vingada-coached side’s chances of a knockout berth.
NorthEast United are now fifth with 15 points, two behind fourth-placed Delhi Dynamos, while Chennaiyin FC are seventh with 15 points with only one game in hand against FC Goa.
The result also saw FC Goa -- last year’s runners-up -- bow out of the competition.
Dudu (34th, 45th, 81st) notched up his first and the season’s second hattrick after Mumbai City FC’s Diego Forlan but Velez (38th, 51st) kept the visitors in the game with his twin strikes to profit in the end and share the spoils.
NorthEast were jolted early with Gustavo Lazzaretti picking up a knock in the 7th minute and being replaced by Wellington Priori.
Chennaiyin’s marquee, John Arne Riise, created the first chance of the game with a venomous strike from a free-kick but in-form home keeper Subrata Paul was equal to the task, palming the ball away for a corner.
But it did not take Chennaiyin long to take the lead when Dudu shook off his marker to powerfully head a Mehrajuddin Wadoo cross into the back of the net.
The Nigerian who has plied his trade in several I-League clubs ran to the home supporters to celebrate as co-owners Abhishek Bachchan and Indian ODI cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, watching the game with wife Sakshi and daughter Ziva, applauded from the stands.
The joy was short-lived though as Velez -- who was keeping the home defence on tenterhooks -- showed exemplary skills to get past Riise and Wadoo by changing pace expertly to dart inside the box and find the near corner.
In what was a riveting first half, injury time had something in store too and it was for the hosts. Dudu was in the thick of things again, this time turning in Jerry Lalrinzuala’s centre from the left.
At the break, Chennaiyin led 2-1.
Velez drew level six minutes into the second half. Profiting from slack goalkeeping, the former River Plate man got lucky with his snapshot which went in between the legs of Eli Sabia and past Karanjit who should have done better under the bar.
But Chennaiyin took the lead again albeit in fortuitous circumstances. Substitute Bernard Mendy -- who came in place of Hans Mulder in the 75th minute -- sent a cross from the right which Dudu failed to connect initially but the ball came off Mailson Alves and went in off the former East Bengal striker to complete his treble.
Just as things looked done and dusted, full-back Shouvick sprang up from nowhere to hog all the limelight and leave his rivals on their knees.