Mohun Bagan took an important step in closing the gap with I-League leaders Aizawl FC with a 3-0 win against reigning champions Bengaluru FC who rested Sunil Chhetri, Eugenson Lyngdoh and Lenny Rodrigues, perhaps with an eye on Tuesday’s AFC Cup away fixture against Maziya of Maldives. Giving further indication of where their priorities lie, the visitors took off CK Vineeth and Udanta Singh in a 63rd minute double substitution.
Katsumi Yusa put the hosts ahead in the 14th minute with a grounder that Amrinder Singh could only get a hand to. Darryl Duffy made it 2-0 with a free header after stealing into space at the heart of Bengaluru FC’s defence where John Johnson and Juan Fernandez were on duty in the 25th minute. Yusa made it 3-0 in the 53rd with another grounder at the far post.
After 13 games, Mohun Bagan have 26 points, four less than leaders Aizawl FC who have played a game more. In second place are East Bengal with 27 points from 14 games.
Three assists from Norde
All the assists came from Sony Norde who stepped off from a trans-continental flight early on Friday. The Haiti international showed no signs of jet lag against Bengaluru FC who left space in key areas and for whom Alwyn George often conceded possession in central midfield and once essayed an almost suicidal back-pass. With wide right Yusa stretching the game, it meant Bengaluru FC had too much to do on an evening when their mind anyway seemed to be elsewhere.
Norde stamped his influence on Saturday in the way he hasn’t at Rabindra Sarovar stadium this term since his first game, against Minerva FC. It started in the fourth minute when he beat right-back Sandesh Jhingan and wide right Udanta Singh with speed and guile. The delivery then was blocked by Amrinder.
But when Norde found Yusa in space 10 minutes later, there was no stopping Mohun Bagan from making all their early running count. The second goal came off a Norde free-kick, awarded after a cynical challenge by Fernandez on Azharuddin Mallick, some 30 yards from goal. It helped Duffy get his seventh I-League goal and move to joint-second on the scorers’ list with East Bengal’s Willis Plaza. Shillong Lajong’s Cameroonian striker Aser Dicka leads the tally with nine.
For the third goal, Norde went on a 45-yard run on the break after beating Jhingan and then held off challenges from Nishu Kumar, Malsawmzuala and Udanta before releasing Yusa.