Kolkata: When Bengaluru FC were leading by a goal against Odisha FC at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune and the assistant referee put up the additional time board, everyone was anxious. The players still had four minutes to hang on for their first away victory, and given what had happened in the past, even the defending champions could not take anything for granted.
Twice before in their five matches, Bengaluru FC had dropped points in the last minute. In the game against Hyderabad FC when they seemed to be cruising and their rivals had a player sent off, Robin Singh played spoilsport and grabbed the equaliser. And against FC Goa away, Bengaluru conceded a penalty in the dying minute and dropped points again.
One of the hallmarks of this season has been the fight teams have shown right until the end. The season has been particularly special with matches coming to life in the last ten minutes. Sixteen late goals have been scored in games that have gone on to yield a result or help a team draw level. Of the 78 goals that have been scored this season, 23 have been scored in the last ten minutes.
"I think it's all about the resistance. I said before the start of the league that in India, it's difficult with the weather and everything. For the Indian players it's good because they are adapted to the weather conditions, but for the foreign players, it's hard to work with the weather. You can see how many foreign players are injured, and many players are tired by the end of the match. And when they are tired, they make mistakes. This is just my opinion," said FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera.
Lobera's comments came after his side, despite having a player sent off, fought back to secure a point against Kerala Blasters FC in the dying minutes. They had done it earlier against Bengaluru FC and even NorthEast United FC when Manvir Singh headed home the equaliser from a crowded goal-mouth.
The most impressive of injury-time spectacles, however, came about when Hyderabad FC visited Chennaiyin FC on November 25.
Chennaiyin, who were winless so far and yet to score a goal, thought they had the winner when Andre Schembri fired past Kamaljit Singh in the 92nd minute. But dramatically, Matthew Kilgallon equalised for Hyderabad, stunning the home faithful in the fifth minute of injury time. There would be another twist in the tale when Nerijus Valskis fired Chennaiyin ahead in the very next minute, seconds before the final whistle, bringing the roof down at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai.
Whatever may be the reason for the late dramatic fightbacks, fans are not complaining. The thrill of watching a team score a late goal and the suspense of not knowing what would happen till the referee blows the final whistle, adds plenty of excitement to the league.