The match started as a cagey affair, with both teams taking their time to settle down. The Highlanders and the Mariners both had their share of early jitters.
ATK Mohun Bagan took the lead right after the cooling break in the 34th minute from a David Williams strike. The Australian forward got the ball from his strike partner Roy Krishna. He then turned, faked a shot and slotted the ball into the back of the net from inside the box.
NorthEast United FC got close to leveling the scores in the 45th minute, but Ashutosh Mehta's header hit the crossbar. The scoreboard at halftime read 1-0 in favour of ATK Mohun Bagan.
In the second half, NorthEast United FC showed more intent to level the scores with ATK Mohun Bagan playing their usual physical brand of football. As the saying goes, in football, it is never over until the final whistle.
NorthEast United FC kept going in search of an equalizer and finally managed to score in added time when Idrissa Sylla headed home a cross from Luis Machado. The scoreboard at fulltime read NorthEast United FC 1-1 ATK Mohun Bagan. On that note, let us take a look at four things we learned from today's game.
#4 Deshorn Brown's absence hampers NorthEast United FC
The introduction of Deshorn Brown to this NorthEast United FC squad has completely turned their season around. Deshorn Brown has been instrumental for the Highlanders after joining NorthEast United FC in the January transfer window.
Deshorn Brown missed the game today due to a hamstring injury. The Jamaican international has scored five goals and has an assist to his name. His presence upfront helps NorthEast United's midfield to play more freely as he creates a lot of space for the midfield.
The Highlanders will hope the big Jamaican striker is fit before the next leg.
#3 Tiri and Jhingan's absence hurt ATKMohun Bagan
ATK Mohun Bagan's Tiri and Jhingan have been the best defensive pairing this season in the ISL. Due to their presence at the heart of the defense, Arindam Bhattacharya has had the most clean sheets this season.
It is also due to their presence that ATK Mohun Bagan have conceded the least number of goals this season. Jhingan was substituted in the last match as he was injured, and Tiri was rested today, keeping in mind the second leg fixture.
Without their first-choice centre-back pairing, the ATK Mohun Bagan defense looked weak and was beaten a couple of times.
ATK Mohun Bagan missed the pair's aerial presence, and Idrissa Sylla took advantage of that factor to score in added time.
#2 Khalid Jamil extends his unbeaten streak to 10 games
Khalid Jamil took charge of NorthEast United FC mid-way through the season. When Khalid Jamil took over, the Highlanders had nine games left and were in seventh place.
The former Aizawl FC coach changed NorthEast United's fortunes after taking over. Khalid Jamil has managed to guide NorthEast United to a ten-game unbeaten streak, the highest ever in its history.
The way Khalid used his resources and changed the formation today against ATK Mohun Bagan with a five-man backline deserves praise.
His substitutions were also spot on, and his decision to bring on Sylla in Benjamin's place is something not many had anticipated.
The Highlanders will hope the I-League winning coach can guide the club to its maiden ISL title. Khalid Jamil's performance this season is also a statement and a big positive for Indian coaches in the ISL.
#1 A fiery second leg awaits
Today, both teams had injury concerns and cautiously approached the game. After scoring the goal in the first half, ATK Mohun Bagan took on a more defensive approach, and NorthEast United FC didn't show much urgency in attack and were patient while going forward.
With the away goals rule not playing a part in this season's ISL, neither NorthEast United FC nor ATK Mohun Bagan will have an advantage going into the second leg. A cautious and defensive approach in the second leg could prove costly as it will be a must-win game for both teams.