Two first half strikes from Sony Norde (35') and Azharuddin Mallick (43') were enough for the Mariners and Rowllin Borges' late consolation goal (90+3') was not enough to earn East Bengal a point.
Even before the referee signalled kick-off, both sets of fans cheered together, united under a single cause after learning Aizawl’s damning late 1-0 loss at Bengaluru. The result in the garden city meant that the I-League title race was still left wide open and both the Kolkata teams had an equal footing on the quest for silverware.
Mohun Bagan opted to field Katsumi Yusa in central midfield and made only a solitary change from last weekend’s game against Bengaluru with Souvik Chakraborty relegated to the bench. Balwant Singh started alongside Darryl Duffy up top as under 22 man Azharuddin Mallick was deployed on the right wing.
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Trevor Morgan kept his favoured diamond formation at bay as he chose to go with a 4-2-3-1. Wedson Anselme was pushed to start after he had barely recovered from a groin injury. Chris Payne and Robin Singh were left on the bench, the latter nursing a groin strain of his own.
The first half battle looked like going East Bengal's way when Anselme and Rowllin Borges were bossing the midfield; not allowing Yusa to see much of the ball. However, youngster Azharuddin was lively down the right, to take advantage of Robert Lalthlamuana's defensive frailties as he beat him for pace and guile time and again.
Romeo Fernandes could do the same for his team as he exploited Bagan's weak link Raju Gaikwad at left back. The Maharashtra-born defender saw the first booking of the match during one of Romeo's forays into the right channel early on in the first half.
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Things started to change when Willis Plaza was crowded out by the superb Anas Edathodika and Anselme started to sky shots from outside the box. Sony Norde, playing his fifth Kolkata derby spewed magic right at the stroke of half time when he maneouvered past Mehtab Hossain and Rowllin Borges and beat Ivan Bukenya for pace. However, his shot was way wide.
Two minutes later Balwant squandered an opportunity to take the lead. Pritam Kotal's long ball was chested down by the former Churchill Brothers striker and he turned and shot it off target but the brilliant show of technique was for all to see.
The moment finally arrived after Romeo Fernandes obstructed Sony Norde to turn with a sight on goal outside the box. Referee Rowan Arumughan awarded a free-kick to the Mariners in 'Sony-zone' and the Haitian obliged with delectable precision.
TP Rehenesh did not have a chance as last season's golden ball winner deposited the ball into the top corner of the farpost and thus silenced his critics by bringing up his first goal in the Kolkata derby.
The Red and Golds seemingly went into the backfoot as Trevor Morgan had to send in Aussia striker Chris Payne for Abinash Ruidas, who had a better game than most of his teammates.
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The dying embers had more drama with Gurwinder Singh pulling off a goal-line clearance from Sony Norde's third attempt inside the box as Rehenesh could only parry away the first two.
Moments later it was 19-year-old Azharuddin Mallick who wrote his name into the record books, doubling Bagan's lead. The youngster romped a good twenty paces to keep his marker Robert Laltlamuana at bay and his ambitious deft-chip from about 25 yards kissed the inside of the farpost and went into the net, much to Rehenesh's surprise as he was left stranded off the line.
The 'hosts' continued to dominate in the second half as Morgan seemed to be bereft of ideas. Both set of defences held on tightly as neither Darryl Duffy nor Willis Plaza had any considerable impact.
Six minutes in, Ivan Bukenya almost headed in a goal but Debjit Majumder held the ball close to his chest from the Ugandan’s towering dive via the flag-kick.
Anas Edathodika made his intent clear of shutting up shop as he denied Chris Payne and the opposition of any open chances to sniff out a goal. However, Sen’s charges too did not push much into the other half as he seemed happy with the lead.
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The focus from football shifted away when Willis Plaza punched Anas on the face and he was given his marching orders in the 66th minute.
In what turned out to be brash challenges, poor passes and miscontrued balls - East Bengal were left frustrated by the Mariners as the clock ticked down.
Gurwinder Singh and Chris Payne too made their way into the referee’s book and it was evident that the Mariners had leapfrogged East Bengal on points.
Jeje Lalpekhlua was thrown into the field to make things worse for Morgan’s side but Rowllin Borges pulled a goal back in the last minute of injury time.
A free-kick from the half-line was headed down by Ivan Bukenya onto his path and he scored with a ferocious volley, but that was too late as the referee blew the whistle moments later.
The Mariners now trail league leaders Aizawl FC by a solitary point but crucially have a game in hand. East Bengal meanwhile concede their position to their bitter rivals and drop to third, rooted on 27 points.