Mohun Bagan kept their slim title hopes alive after beating Churchill Brothers 2-1 in a closely contested game in Goa on Saturday.
Nikhil Kadam (54') broke the deadlock within ten minutes after the break which was cancelled out by Osagie Monday (74'). But Akram Moghrabi's (76') towering header after meeting a perfect delivery by SK Faiaz settled the matters in favour of the Mariners.
Churchill Brothers made a single change to the side that drew 1-1 against Gokulam, as Wayne Vaz was replaced by Britto PM. James Kithan was once again named betwee the sticks, protected by a backline of Osagie Monday, Hussein Eldor, Meitei and Israil Gurung. Richard Costa along with Dawda Ceesay slotted in at the centre of the park, whereas Siyo and Oneyma Okechukwu manned the forward line.
Sankarlal Chakraborty made two changes to the starting XI that won 2-0 against Indian Arrows. Ricky and Rana Gharami made the way for Gurjinder Kumar and Kingshuk Debnath at the left back and centre back positions respectively. Yuta Kinowaki and Cameron Watson continued to hold the keys in midfield whereas Aser Dipanda and Akram Moghrabi shouldered the responsibility to lead the attack.
It was an uneventful first-half and apart from a string of tepid challenges and a disallowed goal, both teams could not force an opening in the first 45 minutes. The two teams concentrated on playing long balls in to the box right from the first whistle, which did not trouble the goalkeepers on either side.
Bagan got the first scoring chance of the game when Kadam delivered a dangerous cross inside the six-yard box. Eldor rose the highest, to clear away the delivery.
The Kolkata giants could have gone 1-0 up on the 10th minute. A brilliant counter-attacking move was started by a darting run from Nikhil Kadam on the right. He swung the ball in for Dicka who somehow managed to thread it to the Lebanese striker who failed to get a clean connection on the ball.
As the game progressed, most of the action was limited to the centre of the park. With each passing minute, the match was craving for some creative imagination so that the forwards get something to work upon.
Siyo was poor with his finishing when Britto's diagonal ball found him completely unmarked. The Congolese forward timed his jump but could not direct the ball on target as his header saied high and wide.
The ball did bulge the net on the 35th minute, when Israil Gurungs's long cross was headed in by Monday. But the referee had already blown the whistle against Frincis who pushed Kingsley inside the box.
Churchill were guilty of wasting a gilt-edged opportunity in injury time. It was another long ball from Gurung which was awkwardly cleared by Kingshuk that led to the chance. The half-cleared ball fell for Siyo at the edge of the penalty box who triggerred a shot that had power but lacked precision.
After the break, the two teams showed more intent to break the deadlock. Churchill managed to build the pressure and eke out a number of flag-kicks within a short period of time but Bagan's defense was upto the task to clear them away. Frincis had an opportunity to score from one of these corners but instead he hit it wide of the far post.
It was almost against the run of play that Kadam scored the opener for Bagan with a fiery left-footer that beat Kithan even after the Naga custodian got a hand to it. Churchill's defence was caught napping by Dicka who set up Kadam with a brilliant lay-off with acres of space in front of the winger.
The goal instigated an instant response from Alfred Fernandes as he made a double change to come back in the game. Uttam Rai and Siyo were called back to the bench as Bektur Uulu and Nicholas Fernandes took their place.
Nicholas made his presence felt as soon as he came on, when his attempt on target called Shilton into action.
But sustained pressure from the Goan side finally reaped benefits as Osagie Monday scored a simple tap-in to bring his side on level terms. It was a beautiful passage of play created by Cessay who released Fernandes with an incisive delivery. The substitute squared it to Monday who just passed the ball into the net.
Just minutes after the equalizer, Moghrabi scored Bagan's second with a towering header, after Faiaz delivered an inch-perfect cross from the flanks.
It was shut shop from Bagan thereafter, as immediately after the goal Moghrabi was sacrificed for an extra man in midfield in Raynier Fernandes. Churchill kept knocking on Bagan's goal but a resolute Paul dived low to his left to deny Ceesay.
Mohun Bagan will next face Gokulam away from home on March 8, whereas Churchill will travel to Panchkula on the final matchday to take on Minerva Punjab.