FC Pune City and defending champions Chennaiyin FC played out a 1-1 draw in a tight, ill-tempered contest at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune.
Chennaiyin led for large parts of the match thanks to a well-taken Jeje Lalpekhlua goal, but Pune dug deep and found a late equalizer through substitute Anibal's free-kick. Despite snatching the point, Pune are yet to win at home this season and they still have not beaten Chennaiyin in the ISL.
Pune's head coach Antonio Habas was back on the sidelines after serving a four-match suspension but his presence did little to inspire the team, which struggled to break Chennaiyin down in the first half.
Chennaiyin have not been at their fluent best throughout the season but Marco Materazzi has rotated his pack well, adjusting his tactics according to the match requirements and resting key players to keep the squad fresh.
His shuffle once again reaped dividends as he opted to leave out playmaker Rafael Augusto and introduced a grafting, three-man midfield of Hans Mulder, Manuele Blasi and Siam Hanghal. The plan was not to create but frustrate.
And frustrate Pune they did. Set up in a 4-3-3, Chennaiyin closed down the channels and reduced the game to a midfield scrap. Fouls were aplenty, chances few. Mohamed Sissoko was a strong presence at the centre but he could not quite pull the strings as John Arne Riise -- brought back in place of Bernand Mendy -- and Eli Sabia had everything covered.
The hosts thought they had scored when Dramane Traore headed in from close range, but Jonatan Lucca had taken the ball out of play before sending in the cross.
Chennaiyin had few opportunities themselves but with Dudu Omagbemi and Jeje fighting for every challenge up front, they had a reliable out-ball. Chennaiyin preferred to hoof and go long rather than deal with the formality of passing their way through Pune's midfield.
In the 28th minute, Jeje was rewarded for his opportunism when he easily muscled out Eduardo Ferreira, chested down a long ball and lobbed his former team-mate Edel Bete from 30 yards. In Chennaiyin's last match, Davide Succi had scored one of the goals of the tournament with a sublime volley. Jeje's effort was every bit as good, if not better.
The goal jolted Pune into immediate action and they, too, decided to try the aerial route. In the 30th minute, Sanju Pradhan knocked a long ball back into the centre of the box but Tato blasted high when he had more than a decent glimpse at goal.
Chennaiyin went into the break with the advantage, and stuck to their game plan. Dudu was left isolated in attack but whenever he got the ball, he was more than a handful for the Pune defenders to handle.
Early in the second half, Dudu missed a glorious chance to double the lead when he shot straight at the keeper after being played in through on goal. It was a pivotal moment in the game, but an even more important one would occur soon after.
Tempers were flaring throughout the match and it eventually reached boiling point in the 74th minute. Dudu and Dharmaraj Ravanan tussled for possession just outside the box and after the ball was cleared away, Ravanan cynically, deliberately stamped Dudu's leg.
Dudu shrieked in pain but the referee did not spot it and Ravanan somehow escaped a clear red card.
A reprieved Pune attacked for the last few minutes with more purpose and vigour. Chennaiyin's defending was last-ditch and they kept conceding promising free-kicks just outside the box.
The substitute Anibal eventually made the visitors pay in the 83rd minute, catching Duwayne Kerr out on his near post with a brilliantly weighted set piece. Materazzi put his hands over his head, while Habas celebrated, relieved that his team had finally grinded Chennaiyin down.
Both teams searched desperately for a late winner, but to no avail. The draw lifted Chennaiyin up to third in the table, while Pune are still near the bottom, with five points from five matches.