Coimbatore: In an energy-sapping but enticing and open encounter which saw as many as five goals, table-toppers Mohun Bagan got one more than hosts and defending champions Chennai City FC at the Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore on Friday evening, to bag three more points in their kitty.
A brace from former La-Liga and Senegalese striker Papa Babacar 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 hosts made three changes from their previous loss to Bagan’s arch city rivals Quess East Bengal, bringing in Mashoor Sharif, Ajith Kumar and Sriram. 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.
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.
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Then in the space of two minutes, two headers went in two corners. 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.
Bagan extended their lead as soon as the second half got underway to pile further pressure on the hosts. Beitia spotted the run of young winger Nongdamba Naorem from a free-kick inside the 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 65thminute Vijay, who was thrown into the fray a few minutes before, let go a stunning pile-driver from outside the box to bulge the 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, Bagan for the insurance goal and Chennai for an equaliser, the game ebbed and flowed but Bagan had the better chances in the end equation.
VP Suhair missed a one-on-one chance with only the keeper to beat having mistimed his shot. Beitia’s 73rd-minute curling free-kick from outside of the box was carried away by Santana to keep the scoreline unchanged.
Bagan managed to cling on to their 1-goal lead and Diawara was adjudged Hero of the Match.
Mohun Bagan now have 23 points from 10 games and are six points clear of second-placed Punjab FC. Meanwhile, these two top-placed teams will challenge each other in an enticing battle on February 9 With their fourth loss in eight games, Chennai, with 8 points from as many games, remain rooted to ninth spot on the table.
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