Mohun Bagan finally opened their points tally for the 2017 AFC Cup group stage as they staged a 3-1 come-from-behind win over Abahani Limited Dhaka at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Having gone down in the 21st minute to Jonathan Brown's opener, the Mariners scored twice within minutes before and after the interval (Jeje Lalpekhlua 46th, Balwant Singh 48th) to take the lead. With just minutes left, goalscorer Balwant turned provider as Sony Norde too got on the scoresheet (87th).
Sanjoy Sen opted to make five changes from the 3-0 win over Bengaluru FC over the weekend. With one eye on the I-League derby on Sunday, youngster Sarthak Golui was drafted into the side. Kinshuk Debnath returned from injury and the Indian strike duo of Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua started together as Darryl Duffy was rested.
Drago Mamic, facing Bagan after almost six years decided to forego his five-man defence as he played Tutul Hosain Badsha in a holding role as Nigerian Emeka Onuoha Darlington started upfront.
The Mariners were on the backfoot from the word go as Abahani had six corners in the first eleven minutes. However, all of them failed to see the back of the net thanks to the early resistance shown by the hosts.
Holding midfielder Rayhan Hasan was awarded the first booking of the night for a foul on Katsumi Yusa. However, the Japanese winger failed to make much of the ensuing free-kick in the fifteenth minute.
Former Wales U21 forward Jonathan David Brown broke the deadlock in the 21st minute. Raju Gaikwad failed to control Mohammed Ziban’s darting run from the right as he cut back and passed it square inside the box.
The Cardiff City youth product remained unmarked and he tapped in from the first touch to sent Bagan on the trail.
Six minutes later, the Mariner let go a golden opportunity to draw level as Sahidul’s fumble from Norde’s shot was hit by Balwant Singh but as Yeasin Khan blocked it, Balwant hit the ball over the bar from the rebound.
India international Jeje Lalpekhlua got the equaliser in the injury time of the first half. Balwant’s cross was brough down by Norde inside the box as he cushioned it to lay it forward to the Mizoram-born striker. A decent-left footed strike saw the ball bulge the back of the net.
It took just three minutes for the Green and Maroon brigade to take the lead post the breather.
Katsumi Yusa turned and made a diagonal run leaving his marker behind. He released Balwant Singh right on the edge of the box who ran in and chipped it over the keeper’s head with a left-footer.
Bagan though, gave on gifting corners to the Dhanmondi giants who failed to capitalize and were second best to the hosts in attack in the second half.
Prabir Das was introduced in the 64th minute and within a couple of minutes, he dazzled the Sky Blues defence as he played a one-two with Jeje Lalpekhlua only to kiss the side-netting with a powerful shot down the right channel.
Balwant squandered a gilt-edged opportunity in the 77th minute to bring up a brace. Yusa passed the ball to him in a similar fashion as his first but the former Churchill Brothers striker took a pause and let go which was eventually parried away by an outstretched Sahidul Alam.
With three minutes to go, Sony Norde found himself on the scoresheet with a magical display of individual football. Striding forward into the box, he left two defenders for good and fooled another to find the back of the net.
Mohun Bagan opened their account in the group with their first win and moved to second spot with three points, maintaining the edge over Maziya S&RC with greater goals scored.