East Bengal's Ugandan centre-back Ivan Bukenya scored a last-minute goal to salvage a 1-1 draw against Aizawl FC in their I-League football tournament opener at the Barasat Stadium here on Saturday.
The northeastern side had taken the lead through a Gurwinder Singh own goal at the stroke of halftime (45th) but Bukenya came off the bench in the second half to head in an equaliser (90th) in the nick of time.
Mohammed Rafique was surprisingly handed the captain's armband ahead of Mehtab Hossain for the hosts.
Four minutes into the half hour mark, Wedson Anselme got the first real chance of the game when the Haitian recruit was set up by U-22 player Nikhil Poojary but goalkeeper Albino Gomes smothered well coming out of his line.
East Bengal's backline looked aged as both Gurwinder Singh and Anwar Ali failed to match the pace of the Aizawl forwards. Wedson was seen dropping deep time and again to create goalmouth opportunities as the new look red and gold brigade clearly lacked cohesion.
On one such occasion, Alfred Jaryan teed up Kamo Stephane Bayi across the face of goal from the left channel but the Ivory Coast striker failed to connect.
The defining moment came in the dying minutes of the half courtesy a bizarre goal. Jayesh Rane flicked on a neat pass near the box to Kamo who was surrounded by three home defenders. But among them, Gurwinder, in an attempt to clear the ball, smashed it into his own net.
Aizawl entered the break with a 1-0 surprise lead.
In the second half, Aizawl came close to doubling their lead when Alfred's header came off horizontal.
Aizawl got a few more chances to put the game beyond doubt as East Bengal's defence creaked.
Brandon Vanlalremdika impressed for the away side since coming on in the 64th minute. For the hosts, halftime change Willis Plaza was on top of his game and showed little signs of rustiness with his neat footwork drawing cheers from the packed crowd.
Just when it looked like Aizawl would pull off an upset, substitute Bukenya thumped in a header from close range to save his side the blushes.