Despite coming up with the better chances, Air India failed to take off and were held by fancied JCT to a goalless draw in an I-League encounter at the Cooperage on Wednesday.
The draw left the home team still searching for their first victory after five matches.
JCT maintain their second position in the table with 11 points (three wins, two draws) behind Dempo while the airmen have four points (four draws and a loss), the same as Mohun Bagan who lost in Goa on Wednesday to the
defending champions. Both teams share the sixth spot.
With the bouncy and hard surface not providing the ideal platform for players to exhibit their skills, and given Air-India's scrappy style of play, the match did not rise to great heights. The absence of goals compounded the misery of the spectators.
Had prodigal Air-India striker Njoh Jean taken the three chances he had after getting the better of the rival defence, there however would have been a happy ending for Bimal Ghosh's battling lads who made light of their physical limitations and played as tough as their sturdy opponents.
Air-India's two African strikers lacked co-ordination to breach the Punjab defence while Paresh Shivalkar's runs down the left flank were too few and far between.
Bashiru Abbas was once on target but his grounder was stopped by rival custodian Karanjit Singh. On the other occasion he essayed a reverse bicycle kick from a Dhanachandra Singh throw in over the bar.
At the other end, the Phagwara side came up with a few shies of their own. Nippy striker Sunil Chhetri hit the side netting in the sixth minute and Abdul Latif Seriki headed a Marcos Pereira free kick fractionally wide of the near post.
The diminutive India striker again bustled past two defenders in the 78th minute but shot weakly to Raju Ekka.
The Air-India citadel enjoyed a charmed life when immediately after the lemon break a looping Baldeep Jr volley struck the crosspiece and rebounded in play, Ekka remaining a mute spectator under the bar.
Despite the absence of veteran stopper back Suley Musah due to injury, the Air India defence, marshaled by three rank novices, stood firm.
Under-19 international Nirmal Chhetri, voted man-of-the-match, did a competent job of keeping the off colour Seriki and Chettri in check. JCT were also baulked by the indifferent form of their Brazilian playmaker, Marcos Pereira, who seemed to have run out of steam.
JCT Coach Sukhwinder Singh made two quick changes in the second session and the third in the 71st minute but neither of his substitutes Jaswinder, Shivraj or Parveen Kumar -- could stamp their mark on the proceedings.
JCT take on Dempo in Delhi on Dec 16 while Air India play East Bengal at home a day later in the sixth round.