Defending champions Bengaluru FC were held to a goalless draw by a spirited NorthEast United FC in their opening game of the Indian Super League (ISL) Season 6 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Monday. Debuts were handed out to several new signings, including Ghanaian World Cupper Asamoah Gyan, Raphael Augusto and Ashique Kuruniyan, but the teams couldn't be separated at the end of 90 minutes in what was a riveting contest. Bengaluru got off the blocks quickly and pressed NorthEast high up the field.
Kuruniyan announced his arrival with a great solo run from the left-back position in the 15th minute. The former FC Pune City player beat three players on his way into the box but shot wide of the mark.
NorthEast United were pinned to their own half in the early stages but were the first to have a shot on target. Collecting a layoff from Gyan, Uruguayan Martin Chaves dribbled past Juanan and forced a diving save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the 21st minute.
A few minutes later, Augusto split the Highlanders' defence with an exquisite pass that released Udanta into the box but the Indian winger failed to test the goalkeeper with a wayward shot from a promising position.
The intensity dropped as the first half wore on. The Bengaluru defence failed to clear a loose ball inside the box after the half-hour mark and Rahul Bheke's header back to Gurpreet ended up with Chaves, who slashed wide in front of an open goal.
The game opened up after the break as both teams started finding openings. Martin Chaves' rampaging run through the centre in the 52nd minute caught the Bengaluru defence off-guard. The forward found Gyan in space inside the box but the Ghanaian striker's splendid effort bounced back off the bar.
Bengaluru, however, responded by fashioning two big chances. Sunil Chhetri won a header at the back post and found Michael Onwu at point-blank range, but he could not sort his feet out in time and the danger was cleared.
A headed clearance by Mislav Komorski after the hour-mark fell to Nishu Kumar who unleashed a powerful strike at the goal which Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the Highlanders' goal brilliantly kept out with one hand, diving to his right.
Coach Carles Cuadrat brought Eugeneson Lyngdoh on with less than 10 minutes to go as Bengaluru tried to find a late winner, but the NorthEast defence did well to close the gaps and frustrate the hosts to pick up a point.