Nigerian striker Nuruddin Salau scored two goals as an enterprising United Sikkim FC took the lead twice before Air India scrambled to force a 3-3 draw in a match where fortunes turned either way in the Round VIII match of the I-League football championship at the Balewadi Sports Complex Stadium on Tuesday.
Air India was sheer lucky to get its two goals through spot kicks—otherwise Bhaichung Bhutia’s team would have ran away with three full points from this encounter.
Elijah Junior took both the penalty shots and made no mistakes in scoring through the grounders past Sikkim goalkeeper Monotosh Ghosh, while Gagandeep Singh scored the other for the home team, all coming in desperate acts after Sikkim had taken lead.
The draw earned one point each for Sikkim and Air India, but their position did not change with the visitors occupying No 12 and the home side at the bottom.
Air India opened the attack through Junior’s forays in the eighth minute, but the onrushing Souvik Chakraborty missed connecting the ball despite being lurking in the box.
Four minutes later Air India wasted a corner before Sikkim attacked through Nadong Bhutia, who collected a long pass but his swipe flew wide of the right post.
Souvik had a forgettable day as he must have missed at least four chances that were set up for him. First was Ezeh Henry’s raid in the 20th minute, but Souvik was late to react. Two minutes later, he had just the goalkeeper to beat but sends the ball into goalkeeper Ghosh’s hands in the 31st minute of the match.
Ten minutes later Togo striker DG Attivi had a chance but his move was spoiled. But four minutes later United Sikkim made the mistake of fouling on Henry. Sandesh Jhingan was the culprit and Elijah Junior fired Air India in front in the 44th minute.
But before Air India could savour the lead, Salau scored the equalizer going into the break.
On changing ends, early action was a bit dour but as the match neared closing stages, goal binge began.
Attivi and Salau went ahead in tandem passing between them before Salau slammed in the goal for 2-1 lead in the 73rd minute. Air India tried its best before Gagandeep Singh chanced on an foolish defensive lapse to put the score back even (2-2) in the 89th minute.
United Sikkim wasn’t giving up too easily and world cupper Michel Roderigues of Costa Rica sent a set piece cross for his skipper Anwar to head in for 3-2 lead in the final minute of the match.
But in the added time of one minute, Sikkim strikers committed foul forcing the referee to show to the spot. Junior made no mistakes in scoring that equaliser.