Mohun Bagan beat defending champions Chennai City FC 3-2 in an energy-sapping but thrilling I-League match to extend their lead at the top of the points table in Coimbatore on Friday.
A brace from Senegalese striker Papa Diawara and another from Spaniard Fran Gonzales, which was his sixth overall in the league, were enough to thwart an inspired Chennai come-back in the second half, when strikes from substitute N Vijay and Jishnu Balakrishnan in the space of four minutes, ignited hopes of the home fans.
Chennai had not lost to Bagan in the previous edition where they emerged champions, but this year’s form was clearly in favour of the visitors going into the game.
The home side made three changes from their previous loss to Mohun Bagan’s arch city rivals East Bengal, bringing in Mashoor Sharif, Ajith Kumar and Sriram. Mohun Bagan just made one forced change as Trinidadian centre-back Daniel Cyrus had to miss out due to injury and Komron Tursunov, the Tajik, slotted in.
Mohun Bagan were off the blocks in a flash, getting three corners within the first five minutes of the game and the writing was clearly on the wall as three headers from Diawara went off-target.
Then in the space of two minutes, two headers from as many corners hit the back of the net. First, Diawara struck in the 28th and a minute later, Fran Gonzalez rose above all to nail another past Chennai keeper Nauzet Santana.
Chennai had the lion’s share of possession throughout the game and were also creating their own set of chances but without luck.
They had three gilt-edged chances in the dying minutes of the first-half but Fito Miranda hit the crossbar. Their Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa, a former Mariner, shot one wide from close after beating the keeper and finally, new Swiss recruit Jan Muzangu’s blast from close to Sankar Roy hit the side-netting.
Mohun Bagan extended their lead as soon as the second half got underway to pile further pressure on the home side.
Beitia spotted the run of young winger Nongdamba Naorem from a free-kick inside the Mohun Bagan half. Naorem made his way inside the box and then squared to an unmarked Diawara who made no mistake in slotting it past Santana in the 49th minute.
The game turned on its head when in the 65th minute Vijay, who was thrown into the fray a few minutes before, let go a stunning pile-driver from outside the box to bulge the Mohun Bagan net.
Four minutes later, Jishnu Balakrishnan took a go from well outside the box on the right and to Sankar’s dismay, the ball deflected of Dhanachandra Singh to wrong-foot him and go in.
With both teams pressing, Mohun Bagan for the insurance goal and Chennai for an equaliser, the game ebbed and flowed but the visiting team had the better of chances.
VP Suhair missed a one-on-one chance with only the keeper to beat, mistiming his shot. Beitia’s 73rd-minute curling free-kick from outside of the box was saved by Santana to keep the scoreline unchanged.
Mohun Bagan now have 23 points from 10 games and are six points clear of second-placed Punjab FC.
With their fourth loss in eight games, Chennai remained rooted at ninth spot with just eight points.