Bharat FC were left to rue their luck as they settled for an entertaining 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong FC on Sunday night at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Mhalunge-Balewadi. Surajit Bose’s 35th minute strike was cancelled out by Brazilian Uilliams Souza’s close-range finish in the 85th minute.
The draw leaves Bharat FC in 10th place on the Hero I-League table. The Lions have 12 points from 13 games while Shillong Lajong FC are in eighth place courtesy of the draw with 13 points from as many games.
Lions’ head coach Stuart Watkiss rung in a few changes opting to start Subash Singh and Surajit Bose as a strike pairing with New Zealand international striker Kris Bright beginning the game on the bench. Steven Dias also returned to the starting eleven as Bharat FC played a 4-4-1-1 formation against a pacy Shillong Lajong FC side.
Bharat FC dominated the first half
The first chance of the game fell to the Lions when Syed Rahim Nabi bombed up the left flank, cut past a covering Boithang Haokip and delivered a cross into the box. North Korean defender Minchol Son had to effect a hasty clearance as Bharat FC won their first corner.
In the 11th minute, a precise corner from Steven Dias saw the ball come off Omar Jarun’s head in the box and fall to Surajit Bose. The striker controlled the ball on his chest before volleying the ball towards the far corner. The strike seemed to have a tad too much in it as the ball whizzed past the post.
In the very next minute, Rajinder Kumar was picked out in the box by Bobby Hassell and even though the former did well to center the ball, the retreating Lajong defense ensured that the ball was cleared. After an exciting opening, the game settled down into a midfield battle as both teams tried to feed their front-men from the center.
In the 28th minute, Bobby Hassell almost gave Bharat FC the lead as he leapt high in the Shillong Lajong box, acrobatically twisted his body and connected a sweet volley. Lajong keeper TP Rehenesh did well to get fingertips to the ball, sending it out for another corner.
The goal finally arrived in the 35th minute as Surajit Bose’s perfectly placed header beat a flailing Rehenesh. Steven Dias delivered a well-judged out-swinging corner and Surajit’s downward header was powerful enough to nestle into the bottom-right corner. Bharat FC created a flurry of attacking moves immediately after the goal, but the Lajong defence managed to avoid further damage going into the break.
The second half saw Lajong finally give Bharat a fight
After the restart, Bharat FC started strongly with the hardworking Subash Singh giving Rehenesh a few nervous moments as he twisted and turned his way into the box. Lajong’s first real chance arrived in the 58th minute when Cornell Glenn, the Trinidad and Tobago international, dribbled past three defenders before seeing his powerful drive come off the cross-bar.
Bharat FC had their goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya to thank as the custodian kept the Lions alive, keeping out two stinging shots from Penn Orji. Arindam produced perhaps the save of the match in the 70th minute when a low fizzing drive from Orji was parried to safety by a diving Arindam.
Lajong FC’s pressing game finally bore fruit in the 85th minute when Penn Orji burst into the right of the Lions’ box and cut-back the ball for the prowling Uilliams Souza to bundle in from close range. Bharat FC almost grabbed the winner in the 88th minute when a powerful diagonal ball from Bobby Hassell found Asif Kottayil and Kris Bright in the Lajong box. Neither of the two could manage the finish touch as the backpedalling Rehenesh breathed a sigh of relief as the ball went harmlessly out of play.