Hong Kong: A spirited Pune FC fought back from a two-goal deficit to hold last year's quarter-finalists Kitchee SC to a 2-2 draw in an AFC Cup group match in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Playing their first overseas encounter, Pune FC rallied with goals from Mirjan Pavlovic (55th) and winger Gabriel Fernandes (74th) after the five-time Hong Kong champions led 2-0 at half time through Fernando Recia (28th) and Juan Belencoso (42nd) in a Group H fixture at the Mong Kok Stadium.
After today's result, Pune FC are on two points from two draws while Kitchee are on four points from a win and a draw. Pune FC had played out a 2-2 draw against Myanmar side Nay Pyi Taw at home on February 26.
The half-time introduction of Mirjan and defender Gurjinder Kumar did the trick for Pune FC in getting the goals up front, but goalkeeper Amrinder Singh's heroics in the second half also kept Pune FC in the game.
Coach Mike Snoei made three changes to the starting line-up, handing starts to defender Anas Edathodika, medio Fanai Lalrempuia and Arata Izumi in place of Salam Ranjan Singh, Anthony D'Souza and Pavlovic.
Both sides began the game cautiously in cold, damp and slippery conditions.
Seven minutes into the match, it was Pune FC who went close first. Arata cut back to Douhou Pierre from the left and the playmaker sent him through. However, Arata's attempt from the edge of the box sailed over.
At the other end, Kitchee went close on a couple of occasions. First, winger Cheung Kun Fung's dangerous low cross from the left was gathered by custodian Amrinder Singh before parrying away defender Fernando's attempt at the goal from outside the box.
Two minutes from the half hour mark, the hosts took the lead on a counter attack after Pune FC lost the ball in the midfield. Fernando set on a run down the left and combined with fellow Spaniard Belencoso before scoring from the edge of the box.
Another poor pass from Pune FC in the midfield saw Kitchee increase their lead. A quick counter attack from the right saw striker Belencoso heading home winger Xu Deshuai's deep cross from the right at the far post.
Coach Snoei introduced Mirjan and Gurjinder Kumar in place of Fanai Lalrempuia and Arata at the start of the second half. The move made the difference as Pune FC came out of their shell and started pushing up to dominate proceedings.
Pune FC pulled one back soon. A quick move on the left saw Gurjinder and Riga combining before a low cross into the box was tapped home by Mirjan on the slide from six yards.
Minutes later, Gurjinder's drive from long range was parried away by Kitchee custodian Wang Zhenpeng.
At the other end, Amrinder kept Pune FC in the game with a couple of brilliant saves. First, an outstretched dive to his right to right to save a freekick, and minutes later, he kept his cool to deny Belencoso in a one-on-one situation inside the box.
Midway through the second half, Gabriel showed his predatory instincts to pull Pune FC level. Douhou played a long diagonal ball on the left for Gurjinder who controlled and sent in a low cross inside the box. Gabriel timed his run to perfection rushing inside to score on the slide beating off a challenge from the defender.
Pune FC kept on pressing ahead restricting Kitchee to a few counter attacks. However, it was keeper Amrinder whose constant saves helped Pune FC remain in the game.
Adding to his earlier saves, the India-international produced two more back-to-back diving saves. First, he denied Desuhai on a volley from the edge of the box followed by a save to block Chan's dangerous long-range shot.