Sylla’s late intervention keeps NorthEast level against Bagan
- The draw also extended NorthEast unbeaten run this season to 11, with 10 of those coming under interim head coach Khalid Jamil. The 43-year-old Indian coach made three changes to the side that had won 2-0 against Kerala Blasters in their last league game of the campaign.
The last time Guinean forward Idrissa Sylla scored a goal from open play, it was a late equaliser after coming on as a second half substitute – against Kerala Blasters in a 2-2 draw earlier this season. On Saturday, it took another late equaliser from Sylla to cancel out David Williams’s first half strike for ATK Mohun Bagan and hand NorthEast United a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Indian Super League semi-final clash at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim.
The draw also extended NorthEast unbeaten run this season to 11, with 10 of those coming under interim head coach Khalid Jamil. The 43-year-old Indian coach made three changes to the side that had won 2-0 against Kerala Blasters in their last league game of the campaign.
One of those changes was forced upon Jamil, with Deshorn Brown being ruled out of the game earlier in the day. Imran Khan and Provat Lakra were dropped from the starting XI as well and Gurjinder Kumar, Ashutosh Mehta and Federico Gallego returned to the line-up.
His opposite number Antonio Lopez Habas made three changes as well, with centre-backs Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri unavailable and Pronay Halder dropped to the bench. In came Prabir Das, Subhasish Bose and Javi Hernandez.
The game got off to a cagey start with both sides initially adopting a cautious approach. NorthEast had the first chance to draw first blood in the 19th minute when Mehta, playing in an advanced role in the right wing, sent in a cross into the box. The ball missed teammate Luis Machado, as well as Bagan defenders Carl MuHugh and Pritam Kotal. It reached NorthEast’s VP Suhair, who couldn’t react in time to turn the ball into the goal.
Bagan’s star man Roy Krishna was starting to make his presence felt in the game and five minutes after Suhair’s chance, he created a half-chance for himself. Receiving the ball off a weak shot from long range by Javi Hernandez, Krishna shielded the ball and took it away from NorthEast centre-back Benjamin Lambot. Put under pressure by Dylan Fox, Krishna still managed to take a shot, albeit it went wide of goal.
Ten minutes later, Krishna and Williams combined to give Bagan the lead. Receiving a long ball inside NorthEast’s box, Krishna expertly controlled it and laid it off to the onrushing Williams, who feigned a shot with his right foot to take the ball away from opposing defender Nim Dorjee Tamang. With the goal at sight, Australian forward Williams unleashed a low shot that slipped through compatriot Fox’s legs and into the back of the net.
After the goal, Bagan were happy to step back and play compact as Jamil’s side started enjoying more of the ball. Habas’s team didn’t shy away from getting a bit physical either, with McHugh twice fouling Machado outside the box shortly after the goal.
NorthEast, however, came close to an equaliser at the stroke of half-time. With Federico Gallego floating in a teasing ball into the box from a free kick, the unmarked Mehta jumped to head the ball towards the goal. Mehta’s effort, however, bounced off the bar for a goal kick.
Four minutes into the second half, referee Crystal John made waved play on when Bagan keeper Arindam Bhattacharya rushed out and got a bit of the ball as well as NorthEast’s Machado, who had been put through on goal.
Having seen the warning signs, Bagan woke up and shut shop. It seemed Habas’s side would be able to eke out their seventh 1-0 win of the season with NorthEast struggling to create chances. After the hour mark, Jamil brought on Sylla for Lambot and Mashoor Shereef for Tamang. A few minutes later, he also threw in Britto PM for Suhair.
None of the changes seemed to be making much of a difference, with Habas further tightening things by introducing Halder in place of Marcelinho. Just as Bagan seemed to be closing in on a first leg victory, Machado crossed from the right and the ball was headed into goal by the leaping Sylla, much to the delight of his teammates and the NorthEast bench.
If Habas was disappointed by the late lapse, he didn’t show any sign after the game. “I am happy with the performance. For 70 minutes, we played very well. After that, a lot of free kicks, fouls. But we have one more match. I will have to prepare the team for that,” Habas said in the post-match TV interview to Star Sports.
Jamil praised his substitutes Sylla and Britto. “After conceding the goal in the first half, we were thinking of making an early change. But I waited for a while because Sylla is also not fully fit, so I gave him 30 minutes and he went in with Britto. Both did a good job,” Jamil said.