Chennai: NorthEast United scored in the final minute of the added time to hold defending champions Chennaiyin FC to a 3-3 draw in a thrilling match and kept themselves alive for a play-offs berth in the Indian Super League football here on Saturday.
Five minutes were added as injury time and Shouvik Ghosh headed the ball in off a corner kick in a dramatic fashion with just seconds left in the match to restore parity and give one point for NorthEast at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
NorthEast came from behind thrice in the match and the draw meant that they remained in the hunt for a last-four berth as they are now at fifth spot in the league table with 15 points from 12 matches. They have two matches in hand.
For Chennaiyin, MacPherlin Dudu scored a hat-trick but his superb efforts were just not enough to take full three points. A win today would have very much kept Chennaiyin in the hunt for a play-offs berth.
With 15 points from 13 matches, Chennaiyin are now at the seventh spot and have very little chance of making the last-four stage though there is still mathematical probability to do so.
Dudu opened the scoring in the 34th minute before Nicolas Velez equalised four minutes later for NorthEast. Another goal by the Nigerian Dudu made it 2-1 at the break but Velez levelled again six minutes after the restart.
Dudu completed his hat-trick nine minutes from full-time but Shouvik Ghosh broke the hearts of Chennaiyin supporters with the late header off of Velez corner kick to share the spoils.
Tempers flared towards the end of the game with NorthEast pushing hard for a last-gasped equaliser. Velez saw an attempt of his own cleared off the goal-line by Eli Sabia in stoppage time before turning provider from the corner.
Chennaiyin were the better side early on and went close to breaking the deadlock in the sixth minute but Davide Succi shot wide. John Arne Riise also went close for the hosts seven minutes later when a thunderous deflected free-kick was tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Subrata Paul.
NorthEast registered their first shot on target in the 22nd minute when Romaric tried his luck from a free-kick that forced Karanjit Singh into a save. Another free-kick by the Ivory Coast midfielder three minutes later found the head of Mailson Alves but Karanjit was perfectly positioned in goal to make the save.
Emiliano Alfaro was then played in on goal shortly after with an incisive pass from Velez. The Uruguayan striker managed to get his shot on target but Karanjit got down low to his left quickly to deny the visitors again.
NorthEast were beginning to grow into the game but were
set back in the 34th minute when Mehrajuddin Wadoo produced a quality cross from the right on the overlap. Dudu got the better of his marker Didier Zokora at the near post to head Wadoo's cross into the back of the net and make it 1-0 to Chennaiyin.
NorthEast were not behind for too long though thanks to some individual brilliance by Velez. The Argentine picked up the ball a few yards from the penalty area in the 38th minute before running at Chennaiyin defence and finishing with aplomb past a helpless Karanjit to restore parity.
Succi had a header on goal for the Chennaiyin two minutes later but Paul saved comfortably. The NorthEast custodian had no chance in first half stoppage time, however, when a low cross by Jerry Lalrinzuala from the left was expertly converted with an angled left-footed finish by Dudu at the near post to make it 2-1 for Chennaiyin at half-time.
The visitors got back on level terms again six minutes into the second period when a half-clearance found its way to Velez on the edge of the box. Velez hit the ball first-time and beat Karanjit in goal to make it 2-2 and silence the home support.
Both sides kept probing the opposition defences in search of the winner with the match becoming increasingly stretched as the second half wore on. NorthEast suffered a huge blow in terms of personnel in the 77th minute when Paul had to be replaced by T P Rehenesh in goal after picking up an injury.
Things went further south for NorthEast four minutes later when Dudu completed his hat-trick to become the only player to score a hat-trick for two different teams. A low cross from the right by substitute Bernard Mendy was somehow bundled into goal by the Nigerian at the near post again, making it 3-2 with a little under 10 minutes of normal time remaining.
Chennaiyin's heartbreaking moment came at the fag end of the match with Shouvik Ghosh jumping highest to connect a Velez corner from the left into the net.