Panaji, Feb 12: Bright Enobakhare's stunning 59th-minute strike couldn't fetch SC East Bengal a win as Hyderabad FC rescued a point, courtesy captain Aridane Santana's stoppage-time equaliser, in their second-leg Hero ISL clash at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Friday.
SCEB fielded an unchanged XI for this 'home' contest, persisting with the winning combination from the Jamshedpur FC match. Neither side managed to break the deadlock in the first-half despite creating some decent chances.
Sticking with their usual game plan, HFC looked to hog possession, while the Red-and-Golds had more shots on target in their early exchanges.
HFC found themselves with a brilliant opportunity to go 1-0 up in the 21st minute as Joel Chianese got on the end of a defense-splitting forward through from Lluis Sastre. The Australian forward was one-on-one with SCEB custodian Subrata Paul, but the latter came off his line in the nick of time to nullify the threat.
The hosts had their first real chance in the 40th minute when Ankit Mukherjee broke into the HFC box with a pacy run from the right and tried to score all by himself with a shot that was saved by Laxmikant Kattimani. The wingback then tried to head in the rebound ball, but it was gathered safely by the HFC keeper.
A couple of minutes later, Anthony Pilkington came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock with a fiery left-footed shot from the right side of the box, but Kattimani pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to delay SCEB's lead.
The deadlock was eventually broken on the cusp of the hour-mark as SCEB's Nigerian sensation Enobakhare produced a moment of absolute magic to net his third Hero ISL goal, against the run of play.
Santana's shot, after bouncing off the post and being cleared away by Narayan Das, found Pilkington, who, in turn, headed the ball into Enobakhare's path. The Nigerian then dribbled past Chinglensana Singh with a solo run and put his shot past Kattimani with a composed finish.
HFC nearly equalised in the 61st minute, courtesy Akash Mishra, whose long-range left-footed shot forced Paul into a save. Then, in the 73rd minute, HFC substitute Fran Sandaza found the back of the net, only to be ruled offside by the linesman.
SCEB deserved a penalty in the 82nd minute when Kattimani fouled an onrushing Bright inside the HFC box, but the hosts' appeal wasn't heeded.
The Red-and-Golds had to make a forced change in the 86th minute as an injured Sourav Das made way for Wahengbam Angousana.
In the end, the match ended 1-1 as Santana restored parity for the visitors in the second-half stoppage time. The move started from substitute Rohit Danu whose pass was collected by Sandaza, who, in turn, threaded in a low cross from the right for Santana to calmly drive it home.
SCEB Assistant Coach Tony Grant, though not happy with the final result, praised his team's competitive spirit at the virtual post-match Press conference. 'It’s tough to concede right at the end. I thought we were always in control. It was just one instance [Santana’s late goal]. It’s harsh to take. But this shows that we are not a million miles away from competing with the teams in the top four,' he said.
The Red-and-Golds remain in the ninth position on the table with seventeen points from as many matches (three wins, eight draws, and six losses).
They play ATK Mohun Bagan next, in the Kolkata derby at the Fatorda Stadium on February 19.