A ten-man Pailan Arrows staged a brilliant fight and held Air India to a 1-1 draw, in the Round XVI match of the I-League Football championship, at the Balewadi Complex here on Saturday (January 12).
Air India’s run of draws continued for third straight round as the host yet again took the lead before allowing their opponents to equalize.
Henry Ezeh scored for Air India in the 37th minute after Pailan had taken the initiative to attack in the first half. Air India’s celebration didn’t last long as Pailan equalized through Rajinder Kumar in the second minute of the added time, which happened to be the final action of the first half.
Holicharan Narzary got the marching order in the 60th minute after being shown two yellow cards. But the AIFF developmental side didn’t lose their spirit and held on gamely with 10 men to win their first point after five matches.
Air India will rue best possible chance to score full points when they failed to take advantage of Pailan being reduced to 10 men. Though Henry and Elijah Junior with substitute Sandesh Gadkari raided Pailan Arrows goal in quick succession, but the winner was not to come by.
The draw meant Air India stayed at No. 9 position with 14 points while Pailan too remained at No. 8 with 15 points.
Credit must go to Pailan goalkeeper Soram Angamba who saved several attacks from Air India towards the end of the second half, but even as five minutes of added into the regulation time, the hosts could find no opening.
Earlier, Pailan Arrows dished out a much-improved performance after having lost five-straight matches since the beginning of December.
The trio of Prabir Das, Len Doungel and Narzary conducted forays into Air India fort but poor finishing cost them dearly. Prabir and Narzary created a good chance in the 15th minute before Doungel spurned it.
The move from the right flank saw Prabir feeding Narzary, who sent a neat cross in the box for an unmarked Doungel. But the wily striker casually connected the ball that went up in the sky.
Soon after, Doungel made up for the mess and beat three defenders to make a long run from the centre and into the box. His powerful right footer was goal bound, but Air India goalkeeper Jagroop Singh punched it out to ward off the danger.
Clearly Pailan was a better team in the early part of the first half, but Air India slowly warmed up and took possession of the ball and the match. Henry Ezeh had a chance in the 24th, but his shot went high over the crossbar. Four minutes later, M Pradeep set up a move with Henry before Souvik Chakraborty joined them to unsettle Pailan Arrows defence.
But their move fell apart with Vijith Shetty skied the shot. Doungel was at it again, keeping Air India defence on toes.
There wouldn’t have been a better chance than what came in the 35th minute for Pailan Arrows. A move set up by Narzary saw Doungel getting the ball in the box with just Jagroop in front. But the striker failed to direct the ball into the netting from less than five yards.
The breakthrough finally came in two minutes later when Air India made the counterattack through Pradeep. The mid-fielder’s long-ranger was nicely collected by Henry Ezeh before coolly putting into the goal.
Pailan, however, had their plans in place. In the second minute of added time, Rajinder Kumar sprinted from the right and went right into the box before finding the back of the nets.