Kolkata: In their first match of the season, East Bengal’s Ugandan centre-back Ivan Bukenya took very little time to make an impact albeit on the other end of the pitch as he netted a last-ditch goal to salvage a 1-1 draw against Aizawl FC at the Barasat Stadium here today. The Mizoram based Aizawl FC had taken the lead through a Gurwinder Singh own goal at the stroke of halftime but Bukenya came off the bench in the second half to head in a powerful equaliser in the nick of time. Both sides shared the spoils as a result.
The hosts missed injured Arnab Mondal in goal dearly as an over the hill Anwar Ali and lacklustre Gurwinder made a meal of their task.
Starting off the match, Mohammed Rafique was surprisingly handed the captain’s armband ahead of Mehtab Hossain for the hosts. Wedson got a chance in the 34th minute of the game when the Haitian recruit was set up by U-22 player Nikhil Poojary but goalkeeper Albino Gomes thwarted the efforts. After that, Wedson was seen dropping deep as Aizawl made the most of a slow rival defence to create opportunities.
For the Aizawl FC, Alfred Jaryan tied up Kamo Stephane Bayi across the face of goal from the left channel in the 36th minute but the Ivory Coast striker failed to connect. It was a comic moment which brought the goal for the visitors in the dying minutes of the first half. Jayesh Rane flicked on a neat pass near the box to Kamo who was marked by three home defenders. But among them, Gurwinder, in an attempt to clear the ball, scooped it into his own net.
With the score of 1-0 in favor of Aizawl, teams went for half time break.
Coming off the break, East Bengal brought on Willis Plaza in place of Jackichand Singh. Aizawl came close to doubling their lead when Alfred’s header came off the crossbar from Lalmuankima’s corner. Jaryan and Kamo linked up well again minutes later outside the box but Anwar put in an important tackle using all his experience. Aizawl got a few more chances to put the game beyond doubt as East Bengal’s defence looked vulnerable.
For the visitors, Brandon Vanlalremdika impressed since coming on in the 64th minute for Lalmuankima. Plaza showed nimble footwork on the other side but failed to put the finishing touches. Later in the game, the Trinidadian took on three rival players but Rafique couldn’t convert it into goal. Plaza got a chance of his own too but Albino did well to tip over his attempt.
In the dying moments of the match with the score 1-0 in favor of the Mizoram based club, and just when it looked like Aizawl would pull off an upset, substitute Bukenya thumped in a header from close range to save his side the blushes. Abinash Ruidas — who came on for Poojary — was behind the corner with Bukenya in the right place at the right time.