A perfect corner, a perfect header.
It has been long since NorthEast United's late attempts in a game yielded a positive result. On Saturday, at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Chennai, they were trailing 2-3 with only minutes left. If precedence was anything to go by, the game was gone from their hands. At long last, however, their persistence finally paid off. With just seconds to go, Shouvik Ghosh ensured Nicolas Velez' brilliant corner didn't go unrewarded as he headed the ball in the back of the net.
NorthEast got a much-needed point which takes them to the fifth place with two games to go. They still have a chance to qualify for the semi-finals, even if the proposition is very slim.
In all fairness to Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi, who cut an expectedly dejected figure at full time, his team were good throughout the game. Yet the harsh reality is that they have lost 11 points from winning positions this season, their poor defending cost them two goals in this match, and they are almost certainly out of contention for a spot in the semi-finals. These are the sort of statistics to worry any side, irrespective of the fact that the Chennai outfit has played well in most of their matches this season.
A draw against Atletico de Kolkata in the eastern derby in Kolkata proved to be a springboard for NorthEast who were winless in four games before that. Since then, they have managed two draws and a win which came against FC Pune City in the previous match.
The visitors were trailing after 34 minutes, and things looked bleak for the side that have so often come short in front of goal. It wouldn't be wrong to term it "surprising" when just four minutes later, Velez caressed home a curling effort beyond a helpless Karanjeet Singh in the Chennaiyin goal.
After Dudu had scored a second time right before the half-time whistle, NorthEast were once again trailing, and it was hard to see them coming back in the game. Thanks to some horrendous goalkeeping by Karanjeet, though, it was Velez who struck again in the 70th minute, and for just the second time this season, Nelo Viganda's men had scored more than one goal.
Dudu got his hat-trick in the 81st minute, and it certainly seemed like game over for the visitors. So many times this season, NorthEast have had late surges, in which they have tried to make a comeback, but it always have come too little, too late. Considering that the side's four wins have all been in cases where they didn't concede, and with just nine minutes and extra time left, it seemed Viganda's men won't be able to score from behind for the third time in the match.
But their perseverance bore fruits this time as Shouvik converted Velez' corner in the dying embers of the game. It all started with a free kick from deep in the half. Velez' shot was cleared off the line, and Katsumi Yusa's follow up shot resulted in a corner. The striker with a brace already in the game whipped the ball in, and Shouvik was there to finish the job.
A performance like this was what the Highlanders surely had hoped for after keeping Velez at the club for a second straight season.
NorthEast should thank the opposition for their defending for all three goals, and particularly the last one was horrendous. Chennaiyin captain Bernard Mendy would have to share a lot of the blame, considering he was brought in to keep the lead intact and was guilty of poor marking which resulted in the equalising goal.
The visitors must question their defence as well. It was poor marking from marquee player Didier Zokora that helped Chennaiyin open the scoring. For the second goal too, NorthEast's poor defending definitely played a significant part, although the home side was brilliant in their attacking play. They were able to drag the NorthEast defence out, resulting in a very disorganised backline.
It was an engrossing match that twisted and turned, with both Chennaiyin and NorthEast taking turns to swing their swords, charge on the offensive and retreat to take a breather.
The encouraging part is that Viganda's men have been undefeated in three games, a positive way of looking at their current run of form, and this comes at the business end of the season for them.
NorthEast now need to win both of their remaining fixtures to stay in the hunt for a spot in the semi-final. While this is extremely demanding and testing, finally they're in the right frame of mind to overcome this problem.