Kalyani, February 13: Punjab FC were held to a 1-1 draw at the Kalyani Stadium by hosts Quess East Bengal (QEB) in their Hero I-League clash on Thursday.
Both goals, brilliant in their own right, came in the first half. Ansumana Kromah gave the home side the lead early but Girik Khosla restored parity five minutes before half-time.
Punjab coach Yan Law made wholesale changes to the starting eleven from their previous loss to Mohun Bagan. Displaying attacking intent, Law chose to begin with four forwards - Brazilian Valci Teixeira Junior leading the attack in place of Dipanda Dicka, along with the likes of Khosla, Makan Winkle Chothe and another of Punjab's three Brazilians Sergio Barboza Junior.
QEB gaffer Mario Campesino left out Didika Ralte and Juan Mera to give Kamalpreet and Spanish striker Marcos Jimenez De La Espada their places back in the starting line-up.
Sanju Pradhan had the first shot on target for Punjab in the 8th minute, but keeper Mirshad was able to thwart it somehow. Off the counter from the Red and Golds came the game's second shot on target and its first goal.
Espada quickly played forward to fellow strike-partner Kromah, who received the ball well outside the Punjab box with two defenders guarding the channel in front. The Liberian kept moving forward and while giving the impression that he was going to drive further forward or pass, made room to his right and unleashed a scorcher of a pile-driver to bulge the Punjab net. Kiran Limbu in goal did not have a chance.
East Bengal seemed to have gotten inspired by the goal initially and upped their attack. To Punjab's credit, however, they absorbed the surge and slowly but surely were finding their way back into the game.
Chothe ran down the right and crossed for Teixeira, who was a tad late to connect with an outstretched right-leg. Then Sanju's shot in the 36th was well saved by Mirshad.
The equaliser finally came in the 40th minute and it had two of Punjab's three Brazilians involved. Danilo Augusto, who started the game in a new central-midfield role, began the move from the right holding off Abhash Thapa, to square it to Sergio Barboza Junior.
The stocky midfielder turned and floated a cross out wide on the left where Girik Khosla had made a run behind right-back Samad Ali Mallick. The Mumbaikar connected with a brilliant left-footed volley which whizzed past Mirshad and into the left corner of the East Bengal goal.
Brandon could have restored the host's lead just before the break when this time Espada found him with a square pass. The Mizo winger missed the target from the top of the box. Chote similarly could have put the visitors ahead but took too long to decide on options with just the keeper to beat from close.
The second half also reflected the trend of the first with Punjab seemingly in control, but clear chances were few and far between.
FULLTIME ⌛— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) February 13, 2020
A fiery 🔥 match comes to an end with @eastbengalfc & @minervapunjabfc sharing the spoils 🙌
QEB 1⃣-1⃣ PFC
💻: https://t.co/LHubOVQW3W#QEBPFC ⚔ #HeroILeague 🏆 #LeagueForAll 🤝 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/7dIxAw01Uw
Kromah and Sanju had two good strikes at goal within five minutes of each other but to no avail. Both coaches rang in the changes with Punjab bringing on Dicka while QEB also gave Juan Mera a go.
The best chance of the half did fall to Kromah when in the 74th minute, off a mistake from Eze Kingsley, the ball fell to him in the clear and he rounded the keeper to shoot towards goal, only to be cleared off the line.
A flurry of corners in the dying minutes were the only other chances for Punjab but the winner did not come. Both teams maintained their positions on the Hero I-League table, with Punjab (18 points) on second, and with QEB (12 points) in the relegation zone.
Source: AIFF Release