Panaji, Jan 6: Despite being reduced to ten men, after captain Danny Fox received his marching orders, SC East Bengal rode on Bright Enobakhare's stellar 80th minute strike and Debjit Majumder's impeccable form between the sticks to eke out a 1-1 draw against FC Goa at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, Vasco on Wednesday. FC Goa grabbed their equaliser in the 81st minute through Devendra Murgaokar.
Enobakhare produced a sublime effort to break the deadlock, beating four opposition players on the way. It was the Nigerian forward's second Hero ISL goal in as many matches.
Fresh from their 3-1 win over Odisha FC, which marked their maiden Hero ISL victory, at the same venue three days back, the Red-and-Golds went into Wednesday's contest with a lot of confidence.
Head Coach Robbie Fowler rung five changes in the starting XI as Narayan Das, Ankit Mukherjee, Enobakhare, Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Harmanpreet Singh came in for Bikash Jairu, Surchandra Singh, Md Rafique, Anthony Pilkington and Jacques Maghoma.
FC Goa's forte has been their passing football and they tried to put pressure on SCEB's backline from the outset by hogging possession.
Their first scoring opportunity came in the fifth minute when James Donachie placed his header off an inch perfect Brandon Fernandes free-kick on target, but SCEB shot-stopper Debjit Majumder made a fine save to keep it at bay.
FC Goa tested Majumder throughout the game, forcing eight saves from him that took the goalkeeper's save tally to 28 – the highest in Hero ISL 2020-21 so far.
SCEB, clad in white-and-blue and playing their fifth 'home' fixture this season, focused more on defensive organisation and looked to capitalise on counter-attacks.
They nearly broke the deadlock on the cusp of the half-hour mark. In the 28th minute, Aaron Amadi-Holloway missed a glorious opportunity of registering his maiden Hero ISL goal when his header off a finely placed Narayan Das free-kick went over the crossbar by a whisker. Soon after, Fox headed a long throw from Raju Gaikwad at far post, but the ball went off target.
Majumder once again came to SCEB's rescue in the 36th minute when he kept Jorge Ortiz Mendoza's dipping long-ranger out for a corner. Three minutes later, he dived to his right to nullify Saviour Gama's goal-bound low shot, taken from long range.
After the first-half ended goalless, FCG continued to apply pressure on SCEB in the second-half, with Mendoza testing Majumder once again with a powerful shot from inside the box in the 46th minute. Majumder though was once again alert to avert danger.
The hosts suffered a massive blow in the 56th minute when Fox was shown a red card for an 'apparent' challenge on Alexander Romario Jesuraj. However, replays later suggested that it was a dubious decision as the challenge was made on the ball, not on the opposition player.
Fox's departure left a perceptible void in the SCEB backline, but their remaining defenders put up a resolute fight to hold FCG back from breaking the deadlock.
In fact, SCEB dominated the last quarter of play once Maghoma and Surchandra Singh came on as substitutes for Amadi-Holloway and Milan Singh, respectively in the 67th minute.
Earlier, in the 60th minute, Matti Steinmann made a brilliant solo run from near the centre circle, beating three players before making a foray into the FCG box, but his shot went just wide of the post.
Their one-goal lead, however, didn't last too long as FCG substitute Devendra Murgaokar bagged the equaliser in the 81st minute with a header that came off a Saviour Gama cross.
The scoreline remained 1-1 till the final whistle was blown and SCEB earned their fourth draw of the season – second after going down to ten men.
With this result, the Red-and-Golds moved up to the ninth spot on the table with seven points from nine games (one win, four draws and four defeats). They also extended their unbeaten run to four matches, having lost just one of their last six outings.
Enobakhare was adjudged the Hero of the Match for taking SCEB's lone shot on target and converting it with finesse.
Speaking about the result at the virtual post-match Press conference, Fowler said, 'I am delighted. We played against a good team…Our players were absolutely brilliant, especially after going down to 10 men. I am delighted with a point but we always want a bit more.”
SCEB play Bengaluru FC next, at the Fatorda Stadium on January 9.