Following their last-gasp winner against Mumbai FC in their last outing, Karim Bencherifa's men struck deep into stoppage-time yet again to secure all three points.
Mohun Bagan grabbed a late winner once again as they beat Air India 3-2 in an I-League encounter at the Kalyani Stadium to deny the visitors a share of the spoils.
The hosts started in their usual 4-3-3 formation. However, the forward line was reshuffled as Syed Rahim Nabi joined Odafa Okolie and Tolgay Ozbey upfront. CK Sabeeth made way for the Indian international. Aiborlang Khongjee came back from suspension and paired up with the in-form Anieche Ichezona at the heart of the defense. Jewel Raja was dropped and Manish Mathani started for the Green and Maroon brigade. Nirmal Chettri went back to his usual right-back position from the makeshift central-back role he played in the last match.
Air India set up in a 4-4-2 formation with the prolific Ezeh Henry leading the attack. The team was devoid of the services of center-beacks John Dias and Sandesh Gadkari as the duo serve suspensions.
The game started in blistering pace with the home team trying to snatch a goal in the opening minutes. However, Anyiche Echezona got into the referee’s book for a clumsy tackle as early as the 1st minute. The Mohun Bagan midfield tried to produce some quality balls to the lethal trio upfront.
The best chance was created in the 11th minute. Odafa Okolie received a ball in midfield and dodged a few defenders down the middle. From the edge of the box, the Bagan skipper played a quality through ball to the onrushing Australian Tolgay Ozbey. However, the striker could not finish as he was illegally brought down by the Air India defender Prem Kumar which prompted the referee to point to the spot. Odafa made amends for missing the spot-kick in the last match by slotting the ball calmly into the net.
After the Mariners went ahead, they started attacking with renewed gusto. The away side seemed clueless, especially in the midfield. The forward line of Naushad Musa’s side looked toothless as Iche won almost all of the aerial duels.
Mohun Bagan didn’t have to wait long to double their lead. Nirmal Chettri cleared the ball in the 28th minute and Snehasish, on receiving it, ran through the Air India defense. He then played the ball to Tolgay, who had a good run down the right side of the box. The talismanic goal-scorer’s shot hit the inside of the post and went in.
The celebrations from the home crowd didn’t last long as the away side scored against the run of play. The Mohun Bagan defense faltered much like they did against Mumbai FC, while attempting the offside trap. This resulted in Vijith Shetty enjoying an unmarked run into the box. He delivered a good ball to Ezeh Henry, who tapped the ball into an empty net and halved the deficit for his side.
The first half didn’t see any more good chances and the players went into the break with the Mariners leading 2-1.
The second half started on an alarming note for Bagan as Shilton Paul got his fingertips to a shot on goal and injured himself in the process.
Bagan though, continued to hit the Air India defense with constant waves of attacks. However, Bubai Singha stood between Mohun Bagan and the elusive third goal. The goalkeeper came out victorious in at least three one-to-one positions when he blocked shots from Odafa and Tolgay brilliantly. The Bagan midfield lost its composure midway into the second half and the game was mainly conducted in direct long balls from both teams.
The next opportunity fell to the Mariners in the 68th minute when another offside trap was executed poorly which left Odafa Okolie and Tolgay Ozbey rushing towards the goal with only the keeper to beat. The in-form custodian dived at Tolgay’s boots to clear the ball but was beyond the boundaries of his penalty area and ended up being charged with handling the ball. Pratap Singh, the referee took no time to give him his marching orders. The free-kick was taken brilliantly by Odafa, but the ball went inches past the post.
Sukhwinder Singh took position between the sticks for Air India and quickly pulled off a good save from an Odafa Okolie shot. The Nigerian’s had a goal ruled out in the 80th minute as he had fouled the goalkeeper in the process.
Odafa had another effort in the 89th minute which was well saved by the substitute keeper. Air India pushed forward and got a few chances in in the final few minutes. Baldeep’s cross in the 92nd minute found Branco who made no mistake with his finish having taken advantage of more bade defending from Bagan.
With the scores level at 2-2, Air India looked to have salvaged a valuable point but just like they did against Mumbai FC, Bagan grabbed the winner deep into stoppage time again. Denson rose highest in the box and headed in his first goal in the I-League in the 94th minute which procured all three points for the Mariners in a grand-stand finish.
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