Abahani's veteran Ghanaian forward Awudu Ibrahim struck deep into injury time to give his side a precious 1-1 draw against Sheikh Russel KC yesterday which maintained their two-point lead in the Grameenphone Bangladesh Premier League.
On a rain-soaked Bangabandhu National Stadium pitch, Mithun Chowdhury had given Sheikh Russel the lead in the 12th minute with a clever tap-in, and for most part of the match, the goal looked like it would be enough to earn them all three points.
However, Ibrahim had other ideas as he conjured up an angular back-heel in the fifth minute of injury time to keep the defending champions on course for a fifth professional league title.
With 28 points from 13 outings, Abahani have three more hurdles remaining – in the form of Muktijoddha Sangsad, Mohammedan and Team BJMC.
Sheikh Russel, who have 26 points from 12 matches, have comparatively easier fixtures, against Brothers Union, Feni Soccer Club and Arambagh KS as well as title-contenders Sheikh Jamal DC. The draw also kept Sheikh Jamal firmly in the hunt as they have 25 points from 12 matches.
The draw left Sheikh Russel coach Maruful Haque bitterly disappointed, but his frustration was aimed more at the match-officials rather than his own players.
“It was bad luck for us, one which was made by the referees. The six minutes of added time was just not realistic,” said Maruful at the post-match press conference. “Now we have little chance of winning the title as I believe there is a big game being played on behind the scene, but we will fight against all that on and off the field.”
Sheikh Russel had strengthened their backline by fielding two foreign defenders for the first time and they adopted a counter-attacking approach which paid off as they took the lead in the twelfth minute. Mamunul Islam had played a long-ball on the right side to winger Zahid Hossain, who raced past Abahani defender Wali Faisal before laying a square-pass for an unmarked Mithun, who chose the right side of Abahani goalie Shahidul Alam Shohel to find the net.
Abahani seemed lacking in purpose with sporadic attacks and miss-passes that hardly troubled Sheikh Russel defenders. However, the Sky Blues found an opening in the 26th minute when Abdul Baten Komol delivered a cross for Awudu, whose side-volley floated over the crosspiece.
In the 51st minute, Sheikh Russel's Haitian forward Sony Norde advanced into the Abahani box availing a fumble from defender Wali Faisal but goalkeeper Shohel intervened timely to deny Sony on that occasion.
Abahani's best chance to equalise came in the 67th minute when Wali Faisal whipped in a cross from the left for Yoko Samnick who ballooned the ball into the air, with only goalkeeper Biplob Bhattacharjee to beat.
But the Sky Blues would eventually score, in the 95th minute, as all their players including the goalie hared down the pitch to capitalize the last chance on a corner. Atiqur Rahman Meshu floated the set-piece, Twum Frank headed it to the path of Ibrahim, who used the side of his right foot to flick it in into the Sheikh Russel net.
“Scoring a goal in this match and in this situation is really difficult and I must give credit to my assistant coaches who insisted on increasing the attackers,” said Abahani's Iranian coach Ardeshir Pournemat, who like his counterpart, blamed the referee for poor handling.
“Frank [Abahani midfielder] should have been given marching order for a second-half tackling and Abahani should have been awarded a penalty when Awudu was brought down inside the box,” said Pournemat.
Pournemat however believed they will have to play very well to win the title as they would face tough opponents in the remaining three matches.