For a team that is in pursuit of championship status, Mahindra United have still not looked the part. They suffered another setback on Friday when they were held to a 1-1 draw by their perennial nemesis Air India in an eighth round I-League local derby at the Cooperage, in Mumbai.
It was Uttam Singh who saved the day for Air India, yet again, Subhas Singh taking full advantage of his long throw-in to volley in the equaliser in the 69th minute.
Man-of-the-match Sushil Kumar Singh had given a resurgent Mahindra the lead in the 53rd minute, his low diving header off a swirling cross from skipper Steven Dias finding the back of the net.
The tie helped Air India maintain their unbeaten status on home turf, albeit with a different twist -- they had won all their games earlier in Mumbai.
Air India are still flying high with 15 points in second spot while their rivals languish in 10th position with eight points.
In fact, Mahindra can be pegged back further if Mohammedan Sporting win their encounter against Vasco later today.
Both teams had chances to settle the issue as the game drew to a close. Substitute Samson Singh volleyed over from point blank range in the 85th minute for Air-India while his goalkeeper Arup Debnath tipped over a header from former alumni Paresh Shivalkar in added on time which had the goal look written all over it.
Mahindra appeared listless in the first-half, their plans forced to undergo an alteration after left-wing back Debabrata Roy was stretchered out in the eighth minute. With their defence tentative, their midfield engine not purring at full throttle and their strikers not sharp enough to pounce on the half chances, it looked like it would be another bad day in the office for the former champions as it eventually did.
However, they perked up considerably in the second session and deservingly took the lead when it came. But in a desperate gamble, Bimal Ghosh threw in his additional strikers Emmanuel Ovieghara and Samson Singh and managed to ensure that honours were shared.
In fact, the Nigerian striker, who has yet to open his account, could have restored parity two minutes earlier than Air-India actually did. But he put a lovely Michael Tayo through ball out with the entire goal at his mercy and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury out of the way.
Incidentally, Kailash Patil, the man whom he replaced, has also yet to hit the target!