NorthEast United FC will have to wait till the conclusion of their league engagements to know if they have qualified for the Hero Indian Super League play-offs.
The Highlanders could have sealed a place among the top four with a victory on Wednesday but could only manage a 1-1 draw against FC Pune City in a closely-fought clash at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.
Rowllin Borges’s 47th-minute strike looked to have given them three points and a spot in the play-offs. But Pune responded well and equalised though Adil Khan who slammed home a volley in the 69th minute before NorthEast United were reduced to 10-men after Jose Leudo was sent off for violent conduct.
The result sees Pune’s mathematical chances of reaching the play-offs snuffed out while NorthEast United, placed third with 28 points, will have to win the concluding league clash against Kerala Blasters. NEUFC will play Kerala Blasters on March 1.
NorthEast United dominated possession in the early stages but it was Pune who got the first shot on target. NorthEast United goalkeeper Pawan Kumar was forced to keep out Jonathan Vila’s strike in the 13th minute.
The Highlanders raised the tempo as the clock ticked on and broke the deadlock soon after the restart. In the 47th minute, Khawlhring fired the ball into the feet of Bartholomew Ogbeche who laid it off for Borges inside the box. Pune custodian Kamaljit Singh came off his line to collect the ball but palmed it back into the path of Borges who slotted the ball into an empty net.
Pune rallied after that goal and used the wide areas to good effect as they put pressure in the attacking third to find a way back into the game.
Ashique Kuruniyan delivered an excellent cross from the left wing to find Adil unmarked inside the box. The midfielder smashed a cracking volley into the net, pulling his side level in the 69th minute.
Hume came close to scoring his first goal for Pune in the 80th minute. A long throw-in by Sarthak Golui was mistakenly headed into the path of the striker by Janeiler Rivas but the Canadian’s shot from close-range struck the post and went out.
Hume’s misfortune in front of goal continued as Diego Carlos found the striker in the centre of the box with a splendid cross from the right flank. The striker sneaked in behind the defence but headed the ball over the bar.
A red card to Leudo late in the game made matters worse for NorthEast United who struggled to impact the game as the second half wore on. The midfielder caught Carlos with his elbow in the 89th minute and was shown the red card. However, Schattorie’s side held on to end Pune’s hopes, while leaving themselves with plenty to do in the concluding clash.