Mumbai, Nov 25 (UNI) Mahindra United rallied brilliantly to force a 1-1 draw against Air India in the opening round of the ONGC I-League local derby at the Cooperage here today.
Skipper Bashiru Abbas gave the Airmen the lead in the 32nd minute with a powerful header from a Sanju Pradhan corner, the short and stocky Nigerian being surprisingly unmarked.
The former NFL champs Mahindra, however, drew level in the 72nd minute when their Ivory Coast mid-fielder Douhou Pierre made a powerful surge into the box from the middle and squared for the irrepressible Yakubu Yusif to nod home.
It looked like Air-India would again get the better of their more-fancied opponents as they struck up a good rhythm initially and created a few openings in a fairly even first session. But Mahindra gradually established control over the match with their quality midfield quartet, establishing ascendancy.
However, the lack of an able partner for the tricky Yakubu saw the wily Ghanaian being hustled off the ball time and again. Neither Manjit Singh, nor his replacement in the 30th minute, Mohammed Rafi, could make their mark upfront.
While Mahindra's inexperienced defence held out in the main, stopper-back Harpreet Singh should consider himself lucky that Paresh Shivalkar put his shot wide off the far post after he gifted the ball to the Air-India left-winger just outside the danger area.
Air-India threw their new foreign striker, Njoh Jean, straightaway into the fray and, while the rangy Cameroonian did not really set the stands on fire, he did provide a few indications of better things to come.
Air-India will now play Salgaocar in Goa on November 29 in the second round, while Mahindra United will take on Churchill Brothers at home the same day.