Dudu Omagbemi scored a much-needed hat-trick but that wasn't enough as Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United played out an entertaining 3-3 draw at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai.
Chennaiyin have only a game to play against FC Goa, who are out of contention for a place in the play-offs. They will need a miracle if they have to make the last four.
In a game with plenty at stake, Dudu opened the scoring in the 34th minute of the game before Nicolas Velez equalised four minutes later to keep the game in the balance. Dudu scored late in the first half to give Chennai the momentum going into the break, but Velez found the net in the 51st minute to level the score.
The see-saw battle continued as Dudu completed the second hat-trick of the season to give Chennaiyin the lead with nine minutes left on the clock. However, NorthEast equalised through Shouvik Ghosh in stoppage time to snatch a late point and stay in the hunt for a spot in the last four.
With the draw, NorthEast now have 15 points from 12 games and have moved to 5th position on the points table. Chennaiyin sit one place below the bottom and their hopes for a place in the semis are all but over after this draw.
Chennaiyin went close to breaking the deadlock in the sixth minute when Davide Succi sent a shot wide of the target and the despairing arms of Subrata Paul. John Arne Riise also went close for the hosts seven minutes later when a thunderous free-kick was tipped over the crossbar by Paul.
NorthEast registered their first shot on target in the 22nd minute when Romaric tried his luck from a free-kick that forced Karanjit Singh into a save. Another free-kick by the Ivory Coast midfielder three minutes later found the head of Mailson Alves but Karanjit was perfectly positioned in goal to make the save.
Emiliano Alfaro was then played in on goal shortly after with an incisive pass from Velez. The Uruguayan striker managed to get his shot on target but Karanjit got down low to his left quickly to deny the visitors again.
The Highlanders were beginning to grow into the game but were set back in the 34th minute when Mehrajuddin Wadoo produced a quality cross from the right. Dudu evaded his marker, Didier Zokora at the near post, to head Wadoo's cross into the back of the net and make it 1-0 to Chennai.
NorthEast weren't behind for too long though thanks to some individual brilliance by Velez. The Argentine picked the ball a few yards from the penalty area in the 38th minute before running at Chennai's defence and finishing cleanly past a helpless Karanjit to restore parity.
Succi had a header on goal for the Chennai two minutes later but Paul saved comfortably. The NorthEast custodian had no chance in stoppage-time at the end of the first half, when a low cross by Jerry Lalrinzuala from the left was expertly converted with an angled left-footed finish by Dudu at the near post to make it 2-1 for Chennai at half-time.
The visitors got back on level terms six minutes into the second period, when a half-clearance found its way to Velez on the edge of the box. Velez hit the ball and beat Karanjit in goal to make it 2-2.
Both sides kept probing the opposition defences in search of the winner with the match becoming increasingly stretched as the half wore on. NorthEast suffered a huge blow in terms of personnel in the 77th minute when Paul had to be replaced by TP Rehenesh in goal after picking up an injury.
Things went further south for the Highlanders four minutes later when Dudu completed his hat-trick to become the only player to score a hat-trick for two different teams. A low cross from the right by substitute Bernard Mendy was somehow bundled into goal by the Nigerian at the near post again, making it 3-2 with a little under 10 minutes of normal time remaining.
Tempers flared towards the end of the game with NorthEast pushing hard for a last-minute equaliser. Velez saw an attempt cleared off the goal-line by Eli Sabia in stoppage-time before turning provider from a corner in the dying minutes of the match for Ghosh, who powered his header past Karanjit and made it 3-3 just seconds before the referee called for the end of game.