Delhi Dynamos showed great character to come from behind twice and steal a point during a dramatic 2-2 draw against Atletico de Kolkata at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
Kolkata took an early lead in the 17th minute through Iain Hume, who calmly slotted the ball past Delhi's keeper Antonio Doblas after being played in by Sameehg Doutie.
Delhi's task was made harder when Badara Badjee received a second yellow card for a deliberate hand ball, but the hosts were given lease of life in the second half when they were awarded a penalty. While Florent Malouda's attempt from the spot was saved by Debjit Majumder, Delhi equalised soon after as Milan Singh struck a stunner from 25 yards.
Javi Lara restored Kolkata's lead with a spectacular long-ranger of his own in the 72nd minute, but there was more drama to follow as Malouda immediately pounced on some poor defending to latch on to a loose ball and slot home his third goal in two matches.
The draw keeps Delhi at the top of the table with 17 points, while Kolkata are fourth, with 13.
Delhi went into the game having won three on the trot, and though they failed to stretch that run to four, they will gain confidence from the fact that they are still unbeaten at home this season.
In fact, Delhi's only loss of the season came against Kolkata themselves, and the visitors looked on course to doing the double when Hume broke free of his marker to meet Doutie's pass, and calmly place the ball beyond an onrushing Doblas.
Minutes later, Badji got his first booking of the night for heading a ball that was already in the hands of the Atletico keeper Majumder.
The game opened up with both playing on the counter, but Badji failed to link up with his teammates in the final third. Regular forward Richard Gadze's presence was missed.
In the 34th minute, Badji was sent off for a needless handball. Malouda put in a dangerous cross from the left, but upon realizing he was not getting to it with his head, Badji tried to hand the ball into the goal. The referee spotted his indiscretion, and had no choice but to produce a second yellow.
Delhi went into the break a goal down, but with 11 of their 16 goals till then coming only in the second half, the game was far from over.
In the reverse fixture between these two teams, Marcelo Pereira missed a penalty that Delhi would go on to regret as Kolkata won 1-0. Marcelo was once again put in the spotlight as he took a tumble inside the box early in the second half, even though there was no touch from any Kolkata defender. The referee, however, deemed it a foul, and pointed to the spot.
Malouda stepped up, hoping to draw Delhi level, but Majumder did well to guess right and palm the effort away for a corner.
Kolkata were reprieved, but Delhi eventually got an equalizer when Milan, found with space on the left, cut inside and hurled a thunderbolt towards the top right corner. Majumder once again dived at full stretch, but this time, he was unable to do anything about the shot.
If Milan's effort was all power, Lara's goal that would follow was more about precision and technique. Lara, who came on as a substitute for the injured Doutie in the 43rd minute, picked up a loose ball in transition, and shaped up for an effort towards the far post, only to curl the ball to Doblas' right.
Kolkata had regained the lead, but they did not retain it for long, as less than two minutes later, Malouda made it 2-2. Malouda received the ball in the box, and used a bit of trickery to turn on his marker, face the goal, and slot it past the keeper.
Both teams pushed for a winner, and Kolkata came the closest in the dying minutes, with Tiri blasting high from close range following a corner, much to his and his team-mates' dismay.