Mumbai: Down to 10 men half an hour into the game, a stubborn and determined Mumbai FC defended stoutly to hold Pune FC to a 1-1 draw in a rough and tough I-League football match here on Sunday.
The home team, who went ahead in the fourth minute itself through a spectacular long-range shot by hard-working Japanese midfielder Taisuke Matsugae, were reduced to 10 men when another key midfielder Sampath Kuttimani was shown the red card by the referee for a cynical foul on rival medio Dhanpal Ganesh.
However, they defended stoutly as they had done here at their home venue - Cooperage ground - for the rest of the match before a 76th minute goal by Pune FC's overlapping full back Raju Yumnam earned the visitors the equaliser.
But after this equaliser, the Pune outfit were unable to breach the Mumbai FC defense in which goalkeeper Nidhin Lal and central defenders Chika Wali and Justin Stephen stood out.
The draw, the second for Mumbai FC on the trot here and third overall, helped the home team maintain their sixth position in the league table with 12 points while Pune, after their fourth draw, were in third spot with 16 points behind leaders Mohun Bagan (18) and holders Bengaluru FC (17).
Pune were clearly the superior outfit against the hard-tackling Mumbai who went ahead by a dream goal from Matsugae and then had to defend with all their might against the rampaging visiting team who clearly missed a capable striker up front to convert their domination into a clear-cut victory.
Matsugae saw the rival custodian A Debnath way out of his line and booted over the goalkeeper with an amazing shot from 10 yards inside his own half, catching the entire Pune team and especially Debnath by total surprise.
But Mumbai spoilt its own cause by resorting to rough play soon after this superb strike by Matsugae, who later came to their defense too by making a goal-line save to win the man of the match award.
Kuttimani was the biggest culprit as he, without any sense or purpose, hacked Ganesh deliberately in the midfield wide on the flank to be sent off. He will now miss Mumbai FC's next two games too.
Handicapped by the absence of one man, Mumbai FC resorted to defending with full gusto and did it with great conviction against a side which delighted with its quick-passing and flank-to-flank game but failed to breach the rival defense till late in the second half.
Pune FC were well served by midfielders Edgar Marcelino of Portugal and their India international Izumi Arata, both of who stood out in their ball distribution along with Ganesh and wing back Yumnam who equalized late in the second half with a left-footed shot that bulged the far corner after a headed pass came his way inside the penalty area.
Pune FC nearly scored in the 36th minute itself but Lal brought off a brilliant tip over the bar to deny Arata's long range shot.
Matsugae was then fouled by Darko Nigac who not only got a yellow card but also ironically got injured in the rough tackle and had to be replaced.
Two minutes from the half time came the superb goal-line save by Matsugae off a corner to deny Pune FC again.
Crossing over, Pune FC -- who had introduced Shoaib Ahmed into the attack, saw the substitute striker spell danger to the Mumbai goal with a powerful shot from 25 yards which was again saved by Lal.
Then Edgar's 30-yard pile-driver just sailed over the bar to frustrate the Pune FC ranks.
Mumbai's attack started to function better when veteran Abhishek Yadav, a surprise choice in the starting eleven in place of suspended Brazilian sharp-shooter Josimar de Silva, was replaced by the speedy Malgares Golsalves.
Both he and fellow-second half substitute Pradeep Mohanraj brought some spice into the attack but could not score.
With time running out Pune secured the equaliser through wing back Yumnam.
With neither side really able to penetrate the rival area from then on, the match, watched by newly appointed national coach Stephen Constantine, petered out into a draw that enabled Mumbai FC to keep their slate clean at home this season.