Two-time champions ATK extended its unbeaten run to five matches, even as NorthEast United were held to a hat-trick of draws and for the successive time at home. Both sides played out a goalless drab at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.
The draw, ATK’s third goalless in four matches, kept them in the sixth position with 16 points from 11 games. Jamshedpur at fourth are on the same number of points but are a rung above on goal difference. NorthEast similarly maintained their second spot but have already played 11 matches, which is two more than the top-placed Bengaluru and one than Mumbai at three.
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With NorthEast failing to display the same football they played at the beginning of the season and ATK seemingly contend with an away point, the game was stuck in the middle for most of the first half. The first real opportunity of the match came in the 21st minute when Redeem Tlang breezed past ATK left-back Ricky Lallawmawma and fired a shot on goal that was brilliantly saved by Arindam Bhattacharya to his left.
But the best opportunity of the half fell for ATK striker Balwant Singh, who found himself in an open situation after Everton Santos’ lob over the home defence fell perfectly for him. But with acres of space to shoot, Singh tried an audacious chip that went straight into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Hitesh Sharma then spurned a similar chance when Manuel Lanzarote’s free-kick found him unmarked inside the box but his header was cleared from goal-line by former ATK player Keegan Pereira.
Both coaches looked contend with how the game was progressing and until Gurwinder Singh’s grave mistake in the 49th minute when he gave the ball away to Lanzarote, the game was heading to just the end it ended in. From the gifted ball, Lanzarote failed to disturb Pawan Kumar at goal.
Atk, however, had the better chances to kill the game off late with Andre Bikey’s header striking Jose Leudo’s hands inside the penalty box but the referee refuted all penalty shouts.