Pune FC continued to keep within striking range of the top-spot after rallying to hold Salgaocar FC 1-1 in an I-League Round 10 encounter at the Duler Stadium in Mapusa, Goa on Friday.
Striker Darryl Duffy (4th minute) put Salgaocar in in the lead early on in the game before striker Riga Mustapha (60th) equalised for Pune FC from the penalty spot.
With a point each, both sides held on to their positions with Salgaocar FC (1st, 18 pts) staying just a point above Pune FC (2nd, 17 pts).
With a lot at stake in this encounter, Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei made two changes to the starting line-up bringing in winger James Meyer and ‘keeper Amrinder Singh in place of Anthony D’Souza and Arup Debnath. Likewise defender Zohmingliana Ralte was the other addition to the matchday squad.
Pune FC began the game by conceding just four minutes after kick-off. Left-back Gurjinder Kumar headed a ball back to goalkeeper Amrinder, but found striker Duffy lurking inside the box. The Scotsman capitalised and tapped in with the Pune FC custodian having no chance.
At the other end, striker Riga went on a run down the left flank but was checked by the Salgaocar defense.
Thereafter, Pune FC settled into the game, and around the quarter hour mark, Riga once again went close. Only this time the striker was dispossessed inside the box by defender Augustin Fernandes. At the other end, Amrinder did well to come out and head the ball to safety in front of striker Claude Gnakpa on a counter.
A minute later, winger Nikhil Kadam went close. After playmaker Douhou Pierre’s attempt to Riga on the run was intercepted by Gilbert Oliviera, Nikhil snatched the rebound but saw his effort going straight into the rival custodian Karanjit Singh.
Midway through the half, Gurjinder came up with a timely block to deny Duffy who controlled Francis Fernandes’ cross in from the left before releasing a powerful shot.
Moments later, medio Arata Izumi tried to open up space for Mumtaz Akhtar on the run only for a timely interception by Salgaocar’s Augustin.
Thereafter, defenders Gurjinder and Ranjan Singh blocked a couple of attempts from Francis minutes past the half-hour mark. Pune FC went into the break trailing by a goal.
Coach Snoei made the first change at the half-time bringing in striker Thongkhosiem Haokip to replace Arata and add firepower upfront.
Seven minutes on and Pune FC survived a close call when Ranjan Singh let Clifton Pereira outpace him resulting in a shot on goal that Amrinder blocked.
Settling into a midfield battle, Pune FC finally equalised through striker Riga at the hour mark. After Douhou Pierre was brought down inside the box by defender Chika Wali, Riga stepped up and converted from the spot to score his first goal in Pune FC colours.
The goal spurred Pune FC who once again went close moments later. Douhou’s curling effort was punched out by Karanjit and fell for Nikhil whose volley, however, went wide.
Six minutes later, Salgaocar went close through Duffy and Clifton Dias but both attempts went wide from close range.
Going into the final ten minutes, Pune FC kept on pressing for the winner. Riga once again got into the box on the left, but went agonisingly wide.
Both teams tried to find the winner in the final moments of the match and Pune FC went the closest. Three minutes into injury time, substitute Shanmugam Venkatesh – on for Meyer – blasted his attempt excruciatingly wide from inside the box as the match ended 1-1.
Man of the Match: Arata Izumi (Pune FC)