KOLKATA: 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 in their Hero I-League opener at the Barasat Stadium here on Saturday.
The Mizoram side 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.
To start with, Mohammed Rafique was surprisingly handed the captain’s armband ahead of Mehtab Hossain for the hosts.
Wedson Anselme had 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 saved well coming out of his line.Wedson was seen dropping deep as Aizawl made the most of a slow rival defence to create goalmouth opportunities.
Wedson was seen dropping deep as Aizawl made the most of a slow rival defence to create goalmouth opportunities.
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 embers of the 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.
Aizawl entered the break with a 1-0 lead.
East Bengal brought on Willis Plaza in place of Jackichand Singh after the break.
In the second half, 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 porous, to say the least.
Brandon Vanlalremdika impressed for the away side 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 international took on three rival players but Rafique failed to capitalise on the pass.
Plaza got a chance of his own too but Albino did well to tip over his attempt.
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.