Fast, furious and trading goals like they dealt in them, Chirag United and Air India produced a thrilling, even
contest. Both teams fought their way into the match just when it looked like they would be overrun. And to cap it all, young Dada Nabeel scored what must be the goal of the third I-League so far.
With a mixture of good luck and goalkeeping, Air India absorbed the early pressure conceding only once when thrice that number would have been accurate indication of how the hosts started Tuesday evening's tie at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan.
No sooner had referee Nazir Ahmed blown for kickoff, Josimar Martins blew over. Sneaking in between central defenders Uttam Singh and Behnam Foroughirad, Edmilson Marques then hit the horizontal after Martins headed down Shylo Malsawmtluanga's floater from the right.
In the eighth minute, goalkeeper Arnab Das Sharma flew to his left to keep out Lalkamal Bhowmick's wicked free-kick and three minutes later, Chirag United were ahead. Jayanta Sen was at the right place and at the right time to stab home after Edmilson couldn't control Bhowmick's offering from the left.
Chirag United seemed to have been denied a penalty when after an exhibition of close control and dribbling skills, Edmilson entered the area and looked to have been felled by Behnam Foroughirad.
Ahmed booked him for simulation instead. The barrage continued with Martins being denied by Arnab in the 18th minute and
Bhowmick's free-kick evading Edmilson in the 22nd.
Violet, it seemed, would be the colour on top of the third I-League table.
Then, Nabeel struck. Hitting on the break is an Air India forte and the ball travelled from a Chirag United corner-kick to the right flank without fuss before Soccor Velho took off. Cutting in, the Air India veteran sent a low cross which Nabeel, zooming past Eduardo Chacon, met with a flying header.
Air India looked a lot settled after that but it's unlikely thoughts of leading at half-time would have crossed their minds. That's exactly what they did after N. D. Opara headed in, making the most of a paralytic attack at Chirag United. And soon after resumption, the big Opara struck again, heading in one of Uttam Singh's really long throws which always spread panic in the goalmouth.