Sony Norde struck in the 84′ minute as Mohun Bagan clinched a late win over Minerva Punjab at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on Saturday.
The Mariners were wasteful on the night and would consider themselves fortunate to come away with all three points as they once again go above Aizawl FC to sit atop the I-League standings.
Minerva Punjab made as many as six changes from their last game. Former Bagan man Deepak Devrani was relegated to the bench and defensive stalwart Loveday Eyinnaya was ruled out through a knock he received against Chennai City.
Sanjoy Sen handed academy product Pintu Mahata his first ever I-League start and Jeje Lalpekhlua got the nod ahead of Balwant Singh up top. Katsumi Yusa drifted into central midfield, in a formation mirroring their Kolkata derby win last Sunday.
Kicking off proceedings placed second on the table, Mohun Bagan were quite wasteful in the opening half. With their opponents holding a high back-line, the likes of Sony Norde and Darryl Duffy were trapped offside more often than not.
In fact, it was defender Eduardo Ferreira who had the best chance early on as he connected well from a Norde free-kick on the wall. His header though was adjudged well by young goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh as he collected the ball on the dive, full outstretched.
Pintu Mahata was lacking in confidence as he miscued a perfect release sent in by Sehnaj Singh as was taken off for Prabir Das in the 25th minute.
Kareem Omoloja could have committed suicide in the 36th minute as he almost hit the ball into his won net. Luckily for the hosts, the ball went over the bar from an interception the Nigerian caught from Darryl Duffy’s square pass to Jeje inside the box.
Minerva found it tough to get into the opposition box. In one of the few attacks, however, Eduardo Ferreira closed down Krishan Pandit after Amandeep won the ball from Sony Norde in midfield.
Both coaches went into the tunnel with having lots to do in terms of rethinking their strategies for the second half.
The Mariners rocketed off at the start of the second period with a flurry of close attempts.
Both Sony Norde and Darryl Duffy were denied by a clearing Moinuddin and the ‘keeper Arshdeep respectively as the Bagan forwards turned up the heat on the Minerva backline.
Pritam Kotal almost grabbed the opener with his screamer from 23 yards out which went over the bar in the 50th minute and the game had to be stopped for a good fifteen minutes owing to a power failure in one of the floodlights.
As the game resumed, Mohun Bagan’s tempo visibly died down and Minerva could have easily gone ahead with Simranjeet Singh rendered unlucky to only hit the woodwork after going past a hapless Prabir Das who failed to mark him right from Krishna Pandit’s pass.
Past the hour mark, Sony Norde began to show flashes of brilliance and with his deft footwork which won his side a few corners but none achieved the task of breaking the deadlock in Ludhiana.
Moinuddin pulled off a goal-line clearance in the 72nd minute after Yusa Katsumi crossed across the face of goal and the Bagan strikers failed to operate evenly in the final third.
Bagan went in with a three-pronged strike attack as Balwant Singh also joined the party but each of them failed to make a mark.
It was none other than Sony Norde who came to the green and maroon’s rescue yet again as he pranced down the left flank as Sang Min Kim played him onside to slot the ball home on the far corner with Arshdeep Singh coming off his line.
The Minerva keeper showed impeccable resolute to stave off any more goals as Mohun Bagan returned to the top of the I-League table after joining Aizawl FC with 33 points.
It will be a final of sorts when the Reds host Bagan next weekend in what could potentially be the title-deciding game of the season.