March has been a tough month for Bengaluru FC. Till February, the new boys on the block were scoring for fun, with the impressive attacking trio of Sunil Chettri, Sean Rooney and Robin Singh. Suddenly, however, their goals have dried up. Defenses have figured out how to handle their threat, and are attacking them on the break when they are committed up field. Bengaluru dropped points yet again on Friday when Pune FC held them to a 1-1 draw at the KSFA Stadium.
As has been the norm, Ashley Westwood’s team started the match brightly, dominating proceedings and taking the lead in the 24th minute, with Chettri finding space inside the box and striking the crossbar before Thoi Singh tapped in the rebound.
This has been the point at which Bengaluru has lost the plot. After taking the lead, rather than pressing for a second goal and therefore the killing blow, the league leaders have lately been content to sit back and defend. And while strategy might work when there are only 10 minutes of the match left, it is a tall order to pull off with two thirds of the match to go.
Pune FC went all out in search of an equalizer, with the home team absorbing the pressure for long intervals. The visitors almost scored at the half-way mark, when Mirjan Pavlovic nodded down Calum Angus’s corner, but though the header beat Bengaluru ‘keeper Soram Poirei, his effort hit the post.
After the break, Pune FC went close twice – once through Pavlovic and the other time through Douhou Pierre, both narrowly missing the target. But the Red Lizards could not be denied for long. Mike Snoei’s substitutions proved crucial as Anthony D’Souza and Othallo Tabia, both of whom had been on the field for a mere minute, combined, with D’Souza rising highest in a crowded penalty box from a Tabia’s cross from the right to equalize at the 73rd minute.
With only 10 minutes left on the clock, controversy erupted as Bengaluru defender John Johnson appeared to use his hand to block Mustapha Riga’s shot, but the referee waved play-on.
In the closing minutes, Pune FC almost took the lead as Thongkhosiem Haokip met a Pavlovic cross with a diving header, but a superb save by Poirei denied him, and the visitors, a winning goal.
With this result, Pune FC stay rooted to 5th place with 30 points, albeit with a game in hand. Bengaluru FC, though still at 1st place, can see their lead at the top of the table rapidly falling away as Salgaocar is fast catching up with them.