For all the tall pre-match talk, the 16th round NFL clash between Air-India and fancied Mohun Bagan, which ended in a goalless draw, failed to live up to expectations.
With nothing significant at stake, except a rise in the rankings and a chance to finish in the prize-money list, both teams were content to play well within themselves and produced nothing out of the ordinary to relieve the tedium for the small faithful gathered at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Thursday.
The glamour Kolkata outfit took their tally to 21 points while Air-India moved to 20, but both stayed put in the sixth and seventh positions respectively [See League table]. This incidentally is the third consecutive draw in the tournament that the airmen have been involved in at this venue.
Air-India tried hard to force the issue in the concluding stages of the game and threatened the Mohun Bagan citadel with their set-piece specialties, but nothing could come out of it.
At the other end, rookie goalkeeper Swarup Das did well to deny Baichung Bhutia from getting onto the score sheet by a couple of timely interventions in the second half. He also did well to keep out a swirling Douglas long-ranger late in the first session.
The famed Bhutia-Barreto duo failed to sparkle in the desultory heat and humidity but the clueless midfield of the maroon & green outfit should share a large part of the blame for the neutralisation of the efficacy of the feared combo. The close marking of Air-India's African central defenders also kept the two on a tight leash.
Air-India left-wing back Santosh Kohli, voted man-of-the-match, however shone with his intelligent promptings. He could have even got his side the lead on two occasions. On the first, in the 19th minute, he darted in as Douglas chested down the ball for Sangram Mukherjee, but his flick from a narrow angle sailed over the bar.
In the 41st minute he beat the offside trap but his lob from a distance landed on the roof of the net.
Air-India's prolific striker Samson Singh kept the rival defence on their toes. Two of his shots were parried but he spurned the best chance when his underperforming skipper, Paresh Shivalkar, set him up with a lovely square from the left into the box. The diminutive Manipuri, who has notched eight goals in the championship, could only boot the ball out in the 71st minute.
Referee K Shankar, who did duty at the 2002 World Cup as a linesman, had things well under control but had to flash yellow at A K Martins (Air-India) and Mehtab Hossain (Mohun Bagan) to keep things cool.