The Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 action has heated up with consecutive six-goal draws as competition debutants Punjab FC played out an enthralling 3-3 game at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium against Bengaluru FC tonight.

Sometimes, all it takes for a certain pattern in a league to take off is a phase of trailblazing momentum. Wednesday’s match in Kochi between the Kerala Blasters FC and Chennaiyin FC set some supreme standards for what teams in the ISL can produce for a bunch of extremely passionate fans.

The Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the West Block Blues are on par with their Kerala counterparts in terms of creating a riveting atmosphere for a gripping game of football. Punjab FC thrived off the same, with Nikhil Prabhu handing them the lead in the 19th minute and subsequently bringing up the 100th goal of the current ISL season.

Madih Talal had brought out a free-kick from distance that Prabhu met perfectly and nicked past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to set the ball rolling for the goal-scoring thriller that unfolded thereafter. Bengaluru FC pulled a goal back and their 20-year-old emerging star Harsh Patre deserves all the credit for a move that he manoeuvred single-handedly.

Spotting abundant space in front of him, Patre steamed forward in the inside channel of the right flank and played a perfect one-two with Javi Hernandez and Sunil Chhetri before unleashing an accurate shot to draw the scores level. Punjab FC had arguably not settled back from the jubilant celebrations of their opening goal as the backline was caught off-guard with Patre acknowledging the incredible applause that was directed towards him.

Punjab FC had perhaps stepped onto the field with the sheer resolve of not budging down tonight. Their centre-back duo of Dimitris Chatziisaias and Suresh Meitei joined hands to regain the lead, with Juan Mera giving it his all to keep the ball in play from a set piece. Meitei curled in a delivery that brushed off Chatziisaias into the back of the net in the 26th minute.

Luka Majcen, the Punjab FC talisman and their most reliable man for goals, was not going to be left out of the dynamism with which his team ran circles around the Bengaluru FC backline. Soon enough, his time to get his name on the scoresheet came, with Mera bluffing a long-range effort to play a clever back pass to Majcen. The Slovenian - nearly 30 yards away from goal, aimed at the bottom right corner and succeeded in getting the ball beyond Sandhu as Punjab relished the incredible joy that comes with being 3-1 up on the home turf of the ISL finals runners-up.

An end-to-end action ensured that spaces would always emerge in both ends of the box, and it was Bengaluru FC’s turn to capitalise on that with Curtis Main pouncing upon a defensive error by Ravi Kumar and Chatziisaias to merely guide the ball into the net in the second minute of the added time of the first half. Main was pressing high up and made the most of that half-chance, which was critical to secure a point for Bengaluru FC.

Eventually, it was Javi Hernandez in the 67th minute, who capped off the proceedings for the Blues. Chhetri received a slick pass from Naorem Roshan Singh and he carved open the Punjab FC backline with an assist for Hernandez, who scrapped the ball past Ravi Kumar from an extremely tight angle on the left-hand side of the goal. It required a moment of technical genius and creative craftiness to bag this draw against a hugely inspired Punjab FC unit, and who other than Hernandez and Chhetri could have done that for Simon Grayson’s men?

Key Performer of the Match

Javi Hernandez (Bengaluru FC)

The attacking midfielder created two goal-scoring opportunities, tackled and crossed once each, in addition to maintaining an 83% passing accuracy and netting the all-important equaliser that sealed the fate of the game for both sides.

What’s next for both teams?

Bengaluru FC will next host Mumbai City FC on December 8, whereas Punjab FC will be playing East Bengal FC at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium the following day.

Brief Scores

Bengaluru FC 3 (Harsh Patre 21’, Curtis Main 45+1’, Javi Hernandez 67’) – 3 (Nikhil Prabhu 19’, Dimitris Chatziisaias 26’, Luka Majcen 30’) 

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