Ludhiana: Last season runners-up East Bengal needed a late equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw against a gritty Punjab FC side in an I-League match the Guru Nanak Stadium here on Saturday.
Danilo Augusto put the home side ahead in the 13th minute and it looked like Punjab FC would run away with all the three points from the match before Juan Mera saved the day for the Kolkata giants with an 84th-minute equaliser.
Punjab FC coach Yan Law made a host of changes from his side that lost 0-3 to Churchill Brothers FC in their opening match of the season. Kiran Kumar Limbu started at the goal instead of Bhaskar Roy.
Samuel Shadap was slotted into the backline in place of the suspended Anwar Ali. Punjab captain Sanju Pradhan retained his place in the line-up with Bali Gagandeep getting the nod upfront, starting with Aser Dipanda Dicka.
East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez Garcia named a largely unchanged line-up from his side that drew 1-1 at home against Real Kashmir FC, with the only change being Samad Ali Mallick starting in place of Kamalpreet Singh in defence.
The opening minutes of the match was a cagey affair between the two sides. East Bengal pressed hard from the beginning and had better exchanges and opportunities in the final third.
The Kolkata side had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 10th minute when Pintu Mahaha delivered an inch-perfect cross into the box for Jaime Santos Colado, who was completely unmarked. The Spaniard triggered a shot from point-blank range, but it was kept out brilliantly by the outstretched legs of Kumar Limbu at the Punjab goal.
In the 13th minute, however, Punjab took the lead as Augusto headed in from a Sanju Pradhan's free-kick, completely catching the East Bengal defence off guard.
The Red and Golds tried making inroads and pushed for an equaliser but the Punjab side were up to the task as they went in at half-time a goal in front.
In the second half, Punjab kept defending in compact spaces as East Bengal struggled to penetrate through the final third, often finding it difficult to get out of their own half.
The equaliser, however, did arrive six minutes from regulation time when Juan Mera took a seemingly speculative attempt on goal from outside the box and the Spaniard was rewarded as his effort found the back of the net to make it 1-1....