The race for the Indian Super League play-off berths took another twist as NorthEast United FC were held to a thrilling 3-3 draw by Chennaiyin FC at the GMC Stadium, in Bambolim, on Thursday.
Three teams -- Hyderabad FC, FC Goa and NorthEast -- are now tied on 27 points from 18 matches, intensifying the race for the last two play-off spots. ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC have already qualified for the play-offs.
When it looked like Chennaiyin would inflict a first defeat on NorthEast United this season, Luis Machado scored a stoppage-time equaliser to extend their unbeaten run to seven games.
Chennaiyin were in the lead through goals from Lallianzuala Chhangte (8th, 52nd) and Manuel Lanzarote (50th) while Imran Khan (14th) and Deshorn Brown (43rd) had replied for NorthEast.
Csaba Laszlo had made his intent to attack clear during the pre-match press conference and his side delivered early in the game with an eighth-minute lead.
After a miserable season in front of the goal, Chhangte finally found his scoring boots as he put Chennaiyin ahead. Jakub Sylvestr picked up Chhangte with an accurate pass from the left and the latter took a touch before firing past Subhasish Roy.
However, it took the Highlanders just six minutes to get back into the game. Luis Machado played a low cross which took a deflection and fell to Imran Khan, who headed in.
Chennaiyin were rescued by Kaith's brilliance when he came up with a double save to deny Machado and Brown from close in quick succession.
At the other end, NorthEast United had the framework to thank. Roy fumbled Manuel Lanzarote's freekick from outside the box, but the ball deflected off his back and hit the post, before being cleared away.
NorthEast finally took the lead from a quick counter. Chhangte lost possession outside the NorthEast box and Khassa Camara played a long ball which found Brown. He won the battle against Enes Sipovic before slamming the ball into the back of the net.
The Highlanders nearly doubled their lead soon after the restart. Machado delivered a perfect free-kick into the six-yard area which was met by Suhair Vadakkepeedika, but Kaith produced yet another save.
Chennaiyin, however, won a penalty when Ashutosh Mehta brought down Chhangte inside the box forcing the referee to point towards the spot. Lanzarote sent the keeper the wrong way to restore parity.
Chhangte then scored his second and put Chennaiyin ahead again. Edwin Vanspaul found Chhangte outside the box. His effort took a deflection off Benjamin Lambot before entering the goal.
NorthEast kept pressing for the equaliser but were denied by Kaith's brilliance.
However, Chennaiyin's hero soon turned villain, giving away a penalty in stoppage time when he brought down Idrissa Sylla in the box. Machado kept his composure to convert the spot-kick.
Churchill Brothers beat Chennai City 2-1, regain top spot
Luka Majcen's injury-time goal helped Churchill Brothers beat Chennai City FC 2-1 and regain the top spot in the I-League table in Kalyani.
Majcen's header in the added time proved to be the difference between the sides after his 49th-minute strike was cancelled out by Elvedin Skrijlej's 64th-minute goal from the penalty spot.
Chennai City needed points to dig themselves out of the bottom half but they failed yet again despite being the dominant side in terms of possession and in having more attempts on goal.
They could have easily been 2-0 up at half-time but complacency in front of opposition goal cost them dear.
In the 24th minute, Rajesh missed a sitter after he was put onto goal by an accurate Sriram through ball from the midfield.
Chennai City missed another opportunity to take the lead in the 28th minute. Vineeth Kumar latched onto a ball from the midfield and put himself onto goal with his first touch. Kumar's shot, however, was saved heroically by Shilton Paul who came out of his lines.
Perhaps the best chance of the first half for Churchill Brothers came in the form of a free-kick in the 43rd minute when Clayvin Zuniga's effort went inches past the post.
Churchill took the lead in the 49th minute. Clayvin Zuniga's flick-on header found Luka Majcen in the box. He coolly controlled the ball and thumped home from close range to hand.
But all did not go as planned for the Red Machines. In the 64th minute, poor defending inside the box by Hamza Kheir handed Chennai City FC a lifeline, in the form of a penalty kick.
Elvedin Skrijelj made no mistake from the spot and restored parity.
Shortly after, Demir Avdic was provided a golden opportunity to put Chennai City ahead but he chipped over the bar.
In the injury time, Clyavin Zuniga combined with Luka Majcen to set up a brilliant goal that proved to be the difference. Zuniga's swirling cross into the box was headed from close range into the goal by Majcen after the Chennai defence failed to spot his run.
Punjab FC held to 1-1 draw by Real Kashmir
Punjab FC's three-match winning streak in the I-League came to a halt when they drew with Real Kashmir FC 1-1 in a top of the table clash at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium in Kalyani.
Joseba Beitia's 67th minute strike from the penalty spot was cancelled out by Dipanda Dicka's goal in the 72nd minute in an eventful second half which also saw two red cards.
In an end-to-end start, it was Punjab, who came close to breaking the deadlock in the sixth minute as Papa Diawara's lobbed header was cleared off the line by Mason Robertson.
The game slowly settled down as Punjab started dominating possession.
Punjab piled on the pressure, winning two free-kicks, one after the other. The first one was hit straight into the wall by Chencho Gyeltshen in the 21st minute. Two minutes later, they won another free-kick from 25 yards and Joseba Beitia forced Mithun Samantha into tipping his effort over the bar.
Real Kashmir had to depend more on set-pieces to open chances. They came close to scoring the opener on the 31st minute when Pratesh Shridokar's long-range curling effort from a Haroon Amiri layoff went inches wide of the post.
A minute after the restart, Danish Farooq pounced on a stray clearance from Mohammed Irshad, but his first-time volley went wide of Kiran Kumar Limbu's goal.
Real Kashmir created another chance on the 47th minute, but Lukman's header from the edge of the area did not carry enough power to beat the Nepalese custodian.
The game took an ugly turn in the 63rd minute when Chencho clashed with Haroon Amiri in an off-the-ball incident and both received their marching orders.
The opening goal finally came after Dharmaraj Ravanan fouled substitute Sumit Passi in the area, and Joseba Beitia slotted his penalty low past Mithun Samantha in the 67th minute.
However, Punjab's lead hardly lasted five minutes as the Snow Leopards scored with their very next corner.
Mason Robertson was at the end of Sena Ralte's long cross into the area. The defender sent his first-time cross across the goal where Dipanda Dicka headed in the ball home.