Barasat, April 5 (IANS) Mumbai FC came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw and dent East Bengal’s title hopes in a crucial I-League clash at the Barasat Stadium here on Tuesday.
Ranti Martins (25th minute) and Bernard Mendy (59th) struck on either side of the break for East Bengal after Steven Dias (15th) had handed Mumbai FC the lead with a beautiful curling free-kick.
The hosts seemed to be heading towards a comfortable win, but Ashutosh Mehta (77th) sneaked behind the East Bengal defence to head home off a free-kick by Jayesh Rane to silence the noisy partisan home crowd and hand Mumbai FC a share of the points.
The result saw East Bengal miss a golden opportunity to climb to the joint top spot on the nine-team I-League table after defending champions Mohun Bagan were held 2-2 by Shillong Lajong FC earlier on Tuesday.
East Bengal thus continue to hold to the third place with 24 points from 13 matches. Arch-rivals Mohun Bagan are at the top with 26 points, but they have played one match more.
Mumbai FC rose from the bottom of the table to join DSK Shivajians at the joint seventh spot with 13 points.
The hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first half, but they conceded a free-kick when Ryuki Kozawa was brought down just outside their penalty box.
Dias stepped up to curl the ball around the East Bengal wall. The hosts’ goalkeeper Luis Barreto should have done better, but he was unable to produce a save, although he almost got a hand to the ball.
The setback prompted East Bengal to go on the offensive while the visitors seemed content to sit back and defend their lead. Abhinas Ruidas received a pass from Rahul Bheke before dribbling past Mehta to send a cross towards Mendy inside the Mumbai FC box. But the former France international was unable to exploit some lax marking by the Mumbai defenders as he headed over the bar.
But the hosts did have to wait too long for the equaliser as in the very minute, Martins produced a superb finish off an accurate Sanju Pradhan pass to restore parity.
The hosts continued to dominate proceedings after the break, but it were Mumbai who created a few excellent chances against the run of play. Sushil Kumar Singh fired narrowly over the bar from just outside the East Bengal penalty box just after the restart. He came even closer in the 52nd minute when he out-jostled the East Bengal defence to put his head to a cross from the right flank, only see the ball fly just wide of the upright. Kozawa also missed a golden opportunity to score after being left unmarked by East Bengal centre-back Arnab Mondal.
The Mumbai FC players were soon left to rue those missed opportunities as Mendy scored off a Martins pass to sent the packed stadium into raptures. But just as it seemed that Mumbai will collapse to another tame defeat, Mehta caught the East Bengal defence unawares to earn a point for the visitors.
The goal seemed to rejuvenate the Mumbai FC players as they surged ahead in search of the winning goal. They went close on a couple of occasions, but East Bengal rode on a combination of good luck and frantic defending to avoid an embarrassing defeat.