NorthEast United defeated Bengaluru FC 2-1 in the first leg of the 2018-19 Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final 1 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.
Redeem Tlang scored the opening goal of the match in the 20th minute but the lead was cancelled out by Xisco Hernandez in the 82nd minute. Juan Mascia's (90+5') penalty strike earned the Highlanders a crucial advantage over the two legs.
Bartholomew Ogbeche was back to lead the line as Mato Grgic and Jose Leudo returned from suspension for the Highlanders. Janeiler Rivas' continued inclusion meant Panagiotis Triadis had to settle for a spot on the bench as Redeem was brought into the NorthEast Untied lineup.
It was a completely new playing XI for Bengaluru from the 5-1 loss to Jamshedpur in their final league game, where key players were rested. New signing Alex Barrera, brought in as a replacement for the injured Erik Paartalu made his debut in midfield.
The hosts ran the show from the very outset as the league leaders hardly had any sniff on the ball. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was called into action thrice in the first five minutes.
Redeem Tlang fell short on getting to the end of a good Federico Gallego cross into the box but he made amends a few minutes later by breaking the deadlock.
Ogbeche found Redeem clear on the right side as a lazy Nishu Kumar allowed the latter space and time on the ball. The former Shillong Lajong winger side-stepped into the box and curled the ball into the far corner of the net past an unmoved Gurpreet.
Gallego could have doubled the lead after the half hour mark but his grounded shot went inches wide. The only attempt Bengaluru had was through Dimas Delgado whose long-range shot had Pawan Kumar in a spot of bother. The goalkeeper spilled the ball but collected it before Miku can pounce.
Ogbeche pulled out with a hamstring injury right on the stroke of half time and Juan Masica replaced the club's top goal scorer. To make matters worse, Rowllin Borges also had to be taken out of the game at half time owing to an injury.
Pawan Kumar was lucky that his spill after collecting a cross was not slammed home by Sunil Chhetri inside three minutes of the restart. Proceedings were totally different than the first half as Bengaluru turned aggressors.
Cuadrat switched to a three-man backline as he introduced Xisco around the hour mark. Xisco and Chhetri both had chances to score but the NorthEast could have had a chance to double their lead from a penalty in the 70th minute. Nishu Kumar pulled down Mascia inside the box but the referee showed no interest.
Xisco managed to win an away goal as the referee did not stop the game for an infringement on Mascia near the halfway line. Chhetri and Miku played a crisp one-two for the Indian to drive to the byline and cross for Xisco, who tapped in past the United backline to draw level.
There was drama in injury time when Harmanjot Khabra brought down Mascia inside the box. The Uruguayan made no mistake from the spot as he slammed the ball hard past Gurpreet from the penalty spot.
The second leg will be played at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday.