2016 Indian Super League, 2016 Indian Super League
  • Mandar Desai (80')
  • Juan Belencoso (28')
  • Stephen Pearson (90'+2')

Late Pearson goal puts Goa on the brink

FC Goa 1-2 Atletico de Kolkata (1:36)

A late injury time goal saw ATK heap more misery on FC Goa after a resolute comeback from the home side. (1:36)

Less than a year since their heartbreaking defeat to Chennaiyin FC in the 2015 final, FC Goa had to endure another night of tears and disappointment in front of their home fans, their campaign all but over after a scarcely-believable 2-1 loss to Atletico de Kolkata.

A fluid Kolkata took the lead through Juan Beloncoso and led for large periods of the game. Goa, though, fought back in the second half, and Mandar Desai scored a deserved equaliser to set up a manic finish.

Football suddenly turned into Russian Roulette, and Goa finally bit the bullet. With the game completely open and devoid of any discipline from either team, the ball fell kindly to Kolkata, who broke forward in numbers and stole a 93rd-minute winner through Stephen Pearson.

That goal sucker-punched the faces of the Goa players first into the ground. They are all but out of the running for the playoffs. Kolkata are all but already there.

Goa were in front of a packed home crowd, and in desperate need of three points. Yet, it was Kolkata who started like they had everything on the line.

While Goa's midfield struggled to come to terms with the pace of the game, Kolkata's Pearson and Borja Fernandez put themselves about, pulling the strings from deep.

While Goa's disjointed attack searched in vain for glimpses at goal, Kolkata's attacking axis of Javi Lara, Helder Postiga and Beloncoso fashioned chances at will.

Lara was a live-wire throughout the first half, and his late bursts inside the box caused Goa all kinds of mayhem. In the seventh minute, a deflected shot from Stephen Pearson fell kindly into the path of Lara, who pulled the trigger for the first time and forced a fine, diving a save from Laxmikant Kattimani.

Four minutes later, with Goa's defence still not completely organised, Lara again received the ball near the edge of the box, side-stepped past a defender to give himself a yard of space, and shot across the face of goal. Kattimani saw the ball late, but once again, he was on hand to produce an important stop and keep Goa in the game.

But with his defenders dropping deep and inviting wave after wave of Kolkata attacks, there was only so much that Kattimani could do by himself.

The visitors were rewarded in the 28th minute for their sustained pressure. Found in the left with both the time and space to pick out a cross, Abhinas Ruidas whipped the ball to the far post with pace and bend. Neither Gregory Arnolin nor Rafael Dumas took charge to clear the danger, and Belencoso peeled away from both to plant a powerful header past Kattimani.

Kolkata were deservedly a goal up, but by then, they could very easily have been a man down. Caught in a tangle with Trindade Goncalves in the 16th minute, Postiga let his frustration known by kicking out, but the referee deemed the foul worthy of only a yellow.

Nothing was quite going Goa's way. Up front, their only real chances came from speculative long-rangers, with both Romeo Fernandes and Jofre Gonzalez failing to test the keeper.

Bad could have immediately gone to worse for Goa, but Postiga's leaping header from a Lara corner just before half-time crashed against the cross bar.

The woodwork denied Kolkata on that occasion, but soon after the break, it came to their rescue.

Mandar Desai's floated cross from the left was harmless and seemed to heading away from goal, but Kolkata's left-back Robert Lalthlamuana erroneously made connection and sliced the ball against Debjit Majumder's right post.

Kolkata were reprieved, but Goa were encouraged. The hosts played the second 45 minutes with more purpose and intensity, releasing the ball faster to the likes of Rafael Coelho and Jofre Gonzalez.

They brought on Robin Singh and Julio Cesar, and reverted to a 3-4-3, willing to throw caution into the wind.

Robin did not score the equalizer - although he came close, heading straight to Majumder - but he played an important role when Goa did eventually draw level.

His fresh legs and pace made Goa a threat on the counter, and the hosts capitalised when Kolkata lost the ball in transition. In the 76th minute, Romeo, Jofre and Cesar broke forward in numbers, and with Kolkata's defence backpedaling, the ball fell kindly on the left to Mandar, who drilled a low shot past Majumder's desperate dive.

Seconds before that goal was scored, Majumder and Jofre were involved in a minor scuffle, with the Kolkata keeper falling to the floor after appearing to be shoved by Jofre.

The game was not short on drama, but it was nothing in comparison to what would follow.

Goa, playing with new wind in their sails, committed several men forward, hoping to snatch a famous victory and keep their semis hopes alive. They hurled several crosses into the box, snatched at shots, and spent every available resource in finding a second goal.

Kolkata, though, through exactly the right balance of stellar and last-ditch defending, managed to stay intact. They, too, were not going to settle for just a point, and showed their hand by bringing on Iain Hume and Sameehg Doutie.

With five minutes left, it was still anyone's game, but Goa's do-or-die tactics played into Kolkata's hands, as they were gifted with numerous three-on-one opportunites.

In the 92nd minute, Doutie, Hume and Pearson had the entire half to themselves, but rather than squaring it to Hume for an empty net, Doutie chose to go at goal himself, striking both the crossbar as well as the post.

Goa were still alive, but they did not stop to take a breather, instead choosing to once again launch an attack on Kolkata's goal.

Kolkata, though, were resolute and once more, the ball broke to Doutie with space to execute a counter. This time, he did square the ball to Pearson, who made no mistake in tapping home from close range.

FC Goa 1-2 Atletico de Kolkata.

At the end of a dramatic contest that twisted and turned more times than an insomniac, it is Goa and their head coach Zico who will have sleepless nights over a season full of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.

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