New Delhi: NorthEast United rallied to play out a thrilling 1-1 draw with Delhi Dynamos to remain on top of the table in the Indian Super League football here on Saturday.
Kean Lewis put Delhi – playing their first home match of the season – ahead in the 38th minute but Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro cancelled it out in the 51st minute as more than 27,000 crowd witnessed a high-voltage and quality encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
NorthEast remained on top with 10 points from five matches – three wins, a draw and a loss – while Delhi jumped to third spot with five points from three games. Delhi remained unbeaten with a win and two draws so far.
Both sides started the match slowly, trying to build the tempo and looking to break down the opposition citadel. NorthEast looked likely the side to get the openings initially with better distribution of the ball. The trio of Alfaro, Nicolas Velez and Katsumi Yusa looked dangerous at times while nippy Holicharan Nazary made some fine runs at the right flank.
But it was Delhi who got the first chance to take the lead, only to be wasted. Just after the away team supporters 'booed' the referee for showing yellow card on Yusa for 'diving' inside the area, NorthEast goalkeeper Subrata Paul could not collect properly a harmless looking shot from Milan Singh but Kean Lewis also shot straight to the keeper off the rebound.
Yusa then had his low shot from an angle beat the goalkeeper but saw it go wide in the 25th minute.
But next minute, Alfaro failed to punish Delhi from a defensive blunder committed by Ruben Gonzalez Rocha. Velez intercepted a horrible pass by Rocha to his goalkeeper Antonio Doblas. Instead of taking the shot himself, Velez passed the ball to Alfaro, but the Uruguayan striker shot wide in front of an empty net.
Delhi took the lead off a set piece in the 38th minute, with NorthEast keeper committing a blunder. Marcelo's corner saw Paul come off his line and completely miss the flight of the ball. The ball fell for Lewis at the far post, who slammed it into the far corner of the net with his second touch.
The intensity of the match did not drop in the second half with end-to-end attacking from both sides and it was difficult to differentiate between the two sides.
To the disappointment of their home fans who matched NorthEast fans in lung power throughout the match, Delhi conceded the equaliser in the 51st minute with Real Madrid defender Rocha committing a blunder for the second time in the match.
Alfaro failed to punish Delhi from Rocha's first blunder early into the match but not this time. Argentine striker Nicolas Velez and Ruben were chasing the ball near the touchline and the Spanish defender gave away the ball. Velez found an unmarked Alfaro whose first shot was blocked by Chinglensana. On the rebound, his shot went into goal between the legs of the defender.
After the equaliser, NorthEast mounted a series of attacks and Nazary had a shot at the Delhi goal in the 57th minute after being sent in the clear inside the box, but missed the target.
Five minutes later (62nd minute), Velez played a ball for Alfaro who made a diagonal run, got away from the goalkeeper on the run but his angular shot under pressure from defender Chinglensana went over the bar.
Former France and Chelsea player Florent Malouda was brought in by Delhi head coach Gianluca Zambrotta in the 66th minute and the home side went all-out for the winner in the frentic last few minutes. Marcelo had a crack at the goal in the 80th minute while Gadze had another two minutes later, but Northeast kepper Paul was upto the task.