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A ten-man Air India [Images] battled grimly to hold fancied Dempo Sports Club to a goalless draw in a 16th round I-League match at the Cooperage in Mumbai [Images] on Friday.
The visitors won the first leg encounter 3-1.
The defending champions, who move up to 23 points now, displace Mumbai FC, who have the same tally, from the fourth spot due to superior goal difference.
Air India also move up a palace, to seventh position, with 18 points despite collecting only two from five outings in the second leg.
The match failed to rise to any appreciable heights with the Goan outfit, hamstrung by the absence of an able strike partner for Ranty Martins, looking quite out of depth for the most part. Beto started out as a striker but this left a void in the midfield and Climax Lawrence, who moved up as attacking midfielder, was not really adept in the new role.
It was only when Armando Colaco brought in Peter Carvalho upfront late in the second half and Beto moved behind into his customary position as attacking medio did Dempo get into the groove.
The red carding of Air India right wing back Bijoy Basfore, after a double booking, in the 62nd minute also helped Dempo's cause.
They piled on the pressure and forced six flag kicks in the second half but to no avail. Beto had a good shy at goal from an Anthony Pereira corner in the 72nd minute but Arup Debnath came to the rescue with a spectacular save. A minute later the Air India custodian again pulled off another stunner by thwarting a reverse kick by Ranty Martins, who was otherwise off colour.
Despite the absence of their Nigerian central defender, Chukwuma Udofia, who was suspended, Air India's young stopper backs Amulya Mondal and Amritpal Singh did a good job of blunting the Dempo attack. The home side's livewire midfielder Michael Tayo too had a fine outing, linking up attack with defence in his usual effervescent manner.
However, Air India's strike duo of Kailash Patil, who is yet to open his account in the tournament, and the otherwise prolific Subhas Singh could not get going.
That besides, in the end, the tie was a moral victory for the home side, as they set out for a point and got it.
For the lacklustre visitors, who travel abroad to play their one-off AFC Cup Champions League qualifier with UAE's Al Sharjah on February 25 in the Gulf, the demoralising draw was poor preparation for the bigger challenge ahead.
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