A controversial penalty from Moirangthem Givson in injury-time secured a crucial point for Indian Arrows as they held Punjab FC to a 1-1 draw at the Cooperage stadium in Mumbai on Monday.
Sanju Pradhan’s first-half goal had put Punjab FC ahead before a late penalty in injury time saw the visitors drop crucial points as Mohun Bagan remained 12 points clear at the top with a game in hand.
The match began at a frantic pace with both teams fighting to win the ball off each other.
Arrows gifted Punjab FC the lead when Goalkeeper Ajit Tom fluffed his lines while attempting to punch Sanju Pradhan’s free-kick that sneaked in.
Despite trailing, Arrows attempted to catch Punjab FC who were playing a high line with Harmanpreet making runs in behind their defence. However, the end product was missing.
Arrows squandered a golden chance around the quarter when Hendry Antonay pinged a cross in the box from the left. Nikhil Raj chested it down for Harmanpreet, who had his shot blocked by keeper as he was guilty of taking too much time.
Cavin Lobo could have nearly doubled Punjab FC’s tally around the half an hour mark, when he found space outside the box and aimed a shot at goal only to brush the side-netting.
Punjab survived a scare on two occasions just before the second half. The first was when Anwar Ali failed to clear Nikhil Raj’s cross for Harmanpreet but Punjab FC keeper Kuwan Limbu made a vital interception before the Arrows striker could manage to pull the trigger.
Another chance would fall towards Harmanpreet before the break when Givson played a defense-splitting pass to the former only for the Arrows frontman to poke a tame shot at the keeper.
Arrows began the second half with confidence, patient with their build-up play and creating ample chances up front but their struggles in the final third continued.
Both defences managed to keep each other at bay as the game turned scrappy. But it was Yan Law’s side who had the bigger chances.
They had the opportunity to double their tally after the hour mark when substitute Makhan Chote pounced on an error from Akash Mishra but he was denied by Limbu as he tried to curl his shot into the far corner.
Punjab FC striker Dipanda Dicka, one goal short of 50 goals in the league, squandered a opportunity to kill the game late on when substitute Nitesh Aswani threaded a through ball to the Cameroonian who made a mess of his first touch.
That miss would come back to haunt Punjab FC as centre-back Anwar Ali conceded a late penalty for a shove on an Arrows attacker, for which the veteran was shown yellow by match referee Pranjal Banerjee.
Givson sent Limbu the wrong way, helping Arrows who were staring at their third straight defeat, save the blushes.
Punjab FC coach Yan Law said he was unclear over the injury-time melee that took place in the box and that he was shocked by the referee’s decision.
“To be honest I dont know what happened,” Law said at the post-match press conference. “The referee was maybe a fan of Arrows. We thought it is a goal kick or a corner but we were shocked when the referee gave a penalty. Nor did the fourth official or the linesman knew what happened and when we approached the match referee, he just walked off. Maybe we get wicked referees in this country or we try to develop them, but they costing teams title. They must pull up their socks.”
Law further accused the referees in the I-League of being bias towards players of the All India Football Federation’s developmental side for their physicality.
“Every team is dominating the Arrows, which is fine,” he said. “But we cannot have referees supporting them because of their physicality. They are blowing the whistle for a light touch on these players and for any hard challenges by them, they wave play on. Before they [Arrows] take the pitch, the [referees] come up with a mindset that they are kids and we should support them. That mentality needs to change because Arrows are costing teams the title and a lot of money,” he lamented.