The kick-off had to be delayed for 45 minutes courtesy a political rally. Traffic jams all over the Capital had forced almost all to reach Dilli Gate’s Ambedkar Stadium much late.
But it was worth all the pain. A scintillating display of football was on display and in the flurry of goals which followed, Air India flew past ONGC 4-2 to register their first points in the I-League this season.
For Air India, M Pradeep scored a brace (3rd and 15th minute) while Prakash Thorat scored the other in the 43rd minute. All of that happened in the first half. In the second half which was more about ONGC, the oil-men pulled two back within a span of two minutes through Kenistan (72nd) and Sachin Gawas (73rd).
But ONGC sealed the fate of the match in the 88th minute when ONG Lepcha tapped it in off a Vijith Shetty corner.
The start was startling as Air India took off perfectly. They surged into the lead as early as the 3rd minute – M Pradeep converting a direct free-kick off his left-foot and 12 minutes later, he doubled the score in the 15th minute off another left-footer from outside the box.
Down by two early goals, ONGC found it hard to recover. Much desperate to pull things back after the initial setback, they went all out in the attack. ONGC, who had put up a brave performance against strong contenders Prayag United in their last match were not that cohesive self. They sorely missed Eric Brown in the midfield as much as they missed Bijoy Gurung in defence.
They preferred to attack down the right and the combination of Captain Jatin Bisht and Yusa Katsumi did raise expectations but they weren’t that lethal to pull one back. Midway in the second half, Yusa changed flanks and moved to the right but his teammates failed to involve him much in the match.
To make matters worse, Air India scored their third goal in the 43rd minute. Prakash Thorat brilliantly flicked a low Shouvik Chakraborty centre with his left-foot from inside the box. The goal had class stamped all over it.
Changing over, Air India adopted a defensive approach allowing ONGC to make inroads. Yusa proved threatening whenever he received the ball but either the crowd of legs in the rival box or lack of support didn’t allow him to pull the trigger.
But the drama hadn’t started as yet. In fact, it began in the 72nd minute as ONGC pulled two back within two minutes. First, Kenistan volleyed in Kailash Patil’s centre and off the restart, Sachin Gawas blasted it in past Air India goalkeeper Jagroop Singh in the very next minute. The two goals lifted up the spirit of the local team and had not an advancing Jagroop thwarted Kenistan in the 85th minute, the result could have been different.
But Air India had the last laugh when ONG Lepcha made it 4-2 in the 87th minute when he made no mistake to capitalise off a Vijith Shetty corner. Air India won 4-2.