Pune FC extended their unbeaten run to six matches and moved into the
Top-5 of the I-League after a comeback 1-1 draw with Pailan Arrows in a Round-12 encounter at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata, on Thursday.
On a day when Pune FC failed to take the chances they created it was striker Mandjou Keita (40th minute) who brought the terms on levels after the Kolkata-side were surprise leaders through a Jibon Singh (14th minute) goal.
The draw was Pune FC’s fourth in the first-leg of the league, but above all the point turned out to be their first in Kolkata and also meant erasing the bitter memories of their previous rounds played in the city.
Pune FC took their tally to 19 points and in the process leapfrogged two places ahead of Prayag United (18 points) and Air-India (19 points). Pune pipped Air-India by virtue of a better head-to-head record against their Mumbai counterparts having won their Round-7 encounter 2-0 earlier.
With a full squad at disposal, Pune coach Derrick Pereira made one change in the starting eleven from the previous match. Thus, Othallo Tabia from the backline made way for striker Jeje Lalpekhlua who paired with Keita.
In the initial minutes, Pune FC dominated but lost the ball in the final third. Mis-passes owing to a casual approach was the order of the game. A counter-attack off a free-kick conceded at the other end led to Jeje going close only to be called off-side.
Jeje worked well with Karma Tsewang, but somehow Pune FC were still to get fluidity in their attacks. Arrows on the other hand threatened which led to Pune FC custodian Abhra Mondal saving a stiff header connected off a pass from the left wing.
Arrows first threat may have served as a warning as the next that they weaved put Pune FC in arrears. Abhra doing well to punch the ball out to his misfortune had Jibon latch onto the rebound and score.
The unexpected goal triggered Pune FC. Central medio Douhou Pierre had a brilliant run only to lose his footing eventually and then Karma put Keita into possession, who in turn set up Shanmugam Venkatesh only to see the medio scuff his shot.
Keita in the meantime skied a try, after Karma put him clear, from eight yards out. At the other end, Arrows troubled Pune FC twice – the first when a cross from the right was a fraction short in getting connected and then off defender Srikant Ramu’s block the rebound rocked the post.
Pune Fc made an early substitution bringing in Baldeep Singh (Karma) which meant moving Lester Fernandez to the right.
Working on build ups, it was Douhou who found Jeje running to his through ball but the opponents keeper Naveen Kumar was quick to read the run. Lester got into the act with a long-ranger that ended up with the custodian bringing off a great save.
Later, Jeje took a shy himself before a couple of minutes later Pune FC scored. Lester playing a through ball to Keita saw the striker finish with ease to go into the break on evens. Keita’s strike was his sixth in the seven starts he has got in the I-League after an injury lay-off.
On resumption, Pune FC put on a fighting show. Srikanth began sending in a cross that tantalizingly went over after catching the keeper off guard, minutes later the wing-back was caught in an uneasy situation by colliding with Caitano Costa which helped Bijendra singh earn the loose ball. However, Chika Wali was alert to clear.
Srikant was quick enough to make up for the lapse with a drive straight into the custodian. And perhaps the best chance came thereafter when Keita headed on to Jeje, who finished into the keepers hands in a one-to one situation.
Jeje then lobbed into the keeper, before Douhou agonizingly had to see Keita find the keeper from the clear. Jeje then made way for Paresh Shivalkar, which meant Douhou moving up.
At Pune FC’s end Arrows substitute Sabeeth worked hard, but the alert Chika did well to hold the backline together including a cross from way inside the box meant for Sabeeth.
Abhra, who had a excellent day out, was yet again in the thick of business keeping out a header off a cross from the left. In retaliation Keita missed an open header and closed by brilliantly laying up a pass to Douhou, who ended up having his try into the keeper for one of the many times during the afternoon.