Odisha FC took the lead and then came from behind to earn a point against NorthEast United in what was a fantastic Indian Super League (ISL) match at the GMC Stadium. Stuart Baxter’s side were put in front by Diego Mauricio before goals either side of half time by Benjamin Lambot and Kwesi Appiah gave NorthEast the advantage. South African midfielder Cole Alexander finally restored parity for Odisha, giving them their second point of the season.
The match started at a steady pace. The first real chance of the match fell to the Highlanders when Gallego’s long ball from inside his own half found Appiah free and running at goal. The striker took a good first touch but his shot was saved comfortably by Arshdeep Singh in goal. Odisha’s first opportunity to get themselves on the scoreboard came soon after. A long ball was headed square inside the box by Steven Taylor which fell to Mauricio. The Brazilian scuffed his shot amidst a good last-ditch tackle from left back Gurjinder Singh. The ball then ricocheted off a couple of players and was finally cleared off the line by Dylan Fox.
Despite that chance, NorthEast were the side who looked more capable of producing a moment of magic and so when the goal came it was completely against the run of play. Hendry Antonay took a throw in from the left. He found Mauricio who came close to him, took the ball, turned and shot at goal in the blink of an eye, beating the goalkeeper fair and square (1-0). The linesman had initially called offside thinking that one of his teammates was blocking the goalkeeper Gurmeet Singh’s view from an offside position. However, the referee had a discussion with him and the goal was finally given, much to the delight of Odisha head coach Stuart Baxter.
However, his joy was short-lived. NorthEast immediately went on the offensive as their midfield lynchpin Gallego whipped in at least four dangerous crosses from set-piece situations. One was headed just wide by Lambot while another was parried away by Arshdeep. Finally, just at the stroke of half-time, Ashutosh Mehta’s cross from the right was headed in by Lambot after he gained a yard on Jacob Tratt to reach the ball first (1-1).
Odisha started the second half brightly. A great move down the left channel saw Mauricio and Hendry combine beautifully before Mauricio crossed inside. Manuel Onwu let the ball run for an onrushing teammate but his shot was blocked by a crowd of NorthEast bodies. However, what left everyone baffled was that Gerard Nus took off Gallego, the most threatening player on the field, and introduced Idrissa Sylla in his place.
The Uruguayan was visibly upset with the decision as he banged his hand on the side of the players’ dugout in frustration. Then, as if to save Nus’ blushes, his side found themselves with a golden opportunity to take the lead. Appiah was set through by Machado, Arshdeep came out, didn't get the ball and made contact with Ghanaian who went down theatrically. The referee pointed to the spot which he himself converted with ease (2-1). That was not to be the final twist in the match as just a couple of minutes later, Mauricio’s reverse pass for Cole Alexander was bent around the goalkeeper beautifully by the South African for one of the goals of the tournament so far (2-2).
This result means NorthEast United stay on 4th with 11 points from eight matches. The Kalinga Warriors leapfrog SC East Bengal into the second-last spot and would be hoping that the heart and grit that they showed tonight will hold them in good stead ahead of a tough run of fixtures including matches against Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC.