LUDHIANA: Juan Mera’s late goal cancel out Danilo Augusto Azevedo’s opener as East Bengal hold Punjab FC to a 1-1 draw in their 2019/20 I-League encounter at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on Saturday.

On the balance of play,  East Bengal will feel they should have sneaked it as they dominated proceedings and created better goal-scoring chances. But in the end, the result was perhaps a fair reflection of the action on show. Both teams had periods of dominance and numerous scoring opportunities.

Punjab FC started the match with more purpose as they threw everything they had to impose their will on their opponents during the early exchanges. And their efforts were soon rewarded in the 12th minute when Danilo sent in a thundering header into the net from a free-kick by Sanju Pradhan.

Conceding so early rattled East Bengal and it took a fair while for the team to settle into the game as Punjab FC controlled the action keeping East Bengal contained in their half, and making sure goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte was kept busy.

East Bengal, however, didn’t lose focus and on a couple of occasions seemed like they could be on track to equalise. Jaime Colado threatened Punjab FC’s goal several times throughout the first-half, creating countless chances inside the penalty area, but the Punjab FC defenders were quick to the ball and made the clearance any time it came near goal.

Mera offered some attacking thrust to the visitors with darting runs down the middle and the hosts could consider themselves somewhat lucky to be still leading in the break.

Punjab FC regrouped in the second-half and made some decent runs forward. East Bengal, however, are not a side to give up lightly and despite trailing kept the intensity high, and the pressure on their opponents as they battled to find a way back into the match.

Nonetheless, the lack of finishing in the attacking third and outstanding defending from Punjab FC meant East Bengal could not find a goal as reward for their early dominance. Adding to their woes was striker Marcos Espada whose every chance went anywhere but on target.

However, an unrelenting East Bengal side kept the pressure on their opponents and eventually managed to break down the solid Punjab FC backline when Mera flicked a header past Kiran Kumar Limbu to restore the parity in the 84th minute.

An absorbing open contest developed for the remainder of the match with both sides creating clear cut chances only to be denied by poor finishing, desperate goal-line clearances and a number of top class saves.

Despite countless attempts on goal up until the dying minutes, neither side was able to break the deadlock forcing them to settle for a share of the points.

Danilo who had an outstanding game for Punjab FC with some creative moves throughout the game, an excellent defensive effort and even a goal adjudged as the Player of the Match.

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