NorthEast United FC rode on Juan Mascia's stoppage-time penalty to clinch a thrilling 2-1 win over Bengaluru FC in the first leg of their Indian Super League semifinal clash, here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Thursday.
The home side went ahead in the 20th minute off a goal from Redeem Tlang, which was cancelled by Bengaluru FC substitute Xisco Hernandes in the 82nd minute.
NEUFC vs BFC - As it happened
The host dominated the opening half and created its first opportunity in the third minute when Lalthathanga Khawlhring threatened the Bengaluru citadel. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sindhu scampered to save the situation and NorthEast United continued to pile the pressure.
After Redeem had missed an assist from Federico Gallego in the 13th minute, he came back strongly in the 20th minute to find the target. Bartholomew Ogbeche found an unmarked Redeem on the right and the winger collected the ball calmly, dodged his way into the box and struck a lovely left-footed curling attempt that sailed past a rooted Gurpreet and into the back of the goal. Incidentally, this was Tlang's first ever goal in the ISL.
Bengaluru tried to regroup after conceding the goal and nearly got back on level terms in the 24th minute when Dimas Delgado's cracking left-footer. NorthEast goalkeeper Pawan Kumar fumbled the save and collected the ball only on the second attempt, with a dangerous Miku waiting to pounce.
The host suffered a big blow in the last minute of the opening half when the influential Ogbeche had to be taken off owing to injury. Subsequently Rowlinn Borges was also replaced during the interval.
In Ogbeche's absence, NorthEast returned to a defensive plan after the break as Bengaluru stepped up the offensive in a bid to restore parity. The move saw Miku and captain Sunil Chhetri make repeated moves into the attacking third and that opened up the goal route in the 82nd minute. Chhetri did the hard work this time, playing a one-two with Miku and breaking into the opposition box.
Chhetri played an accurate cross for an onrushing Xisco, who tapped home the equaliser. Just as Carles Cuadrat's men appeared to be celebrating a draw, referee Santosh Kumar awarded NorthEast United a penalty in added time after Harmanjot Khabra pulled down Juan Mascia inside his own box following a free-kick.
Mascia coolly converted from the spot as he put the ball beyond Gurpreet's reach and earned his side the win, much to the joy of the the raucous 22,000-strong home support.
The two sides will meet in the second leg semifinal clash on March 11.