You may call it beginners' luck or credit him for adapting quickly to Indian conditions. Whichever way you look at it, one thing is sure — Ghana's Andrews Mensah deserves applause for his role in helping Mahindra United make a winning start to their 11th National Football League campaign.
The 27-year-old, playing his first match on Indian soil, came up with a superb volley to bring back the holders into the game and then turned provider to skipper and compatriot Yusif Yakubu late in the second half. His efforts handed the red devils full points against former champions Dempo at the Cooperage on Monday.
Incidentally, this was also the first time that Mahindras got three points from their opening NFL encounter in the history of the competition.
However, things did not start well for the local outfit. Despite dominating the ball possession, their defence was caught napping when Dempo right back Sameer Naik sent in a probing cross inside the box in the fourth minute.
Jerry Zirsanga was left unmarked and the diminutive midfielder slotted home the volley to send the Mahindra supporters in a daze.
Dempo then enjoyed their best phase of the game but only till Mensah, who was also named the Man of the Match, came to the party in the 11th minute. In what was a replay of Sunday's goal scored by Air-India against East Bengal, Mahindras' left back NS Manju threw in a long ball inside the box.
NP Pradeep and Yakubu played their part to perfection in directing the ball to the second post where Mensah was perfectly placed to score an equaliser.
The IFA shield champions then began taking the attack to the opponents and had it not been for a fine save by Dempo custodian Satish Kumar, Manjit Singh could have put the hosts ahead in the 20th minute. The midfielder played one to one with Mensah before entering the box but Satish was quick to leave his line and cover Manjit's shot.
In the second half, Mahindras coach Derrick Pereira juggled his midfield to keep a tab on Clifford Miranda's probing runs from the left and the move worked wonders as the visitors were unable to launch attacks from the wings.
Mensah missed a golden opportunity to add another goal to his tally in the 76th minute when his header off the cross of Steven Dias could not beat Satish. But five minutes later, he made the most of a through pass from Rauf Khan to stretch the Dempo defence to the left and then sent in a cross to Yakubu, who could have never missed the simplest of tap ins.
Despite the goal and the assist, what would have really pleased Pereira was the way Mensah teamed up with Yakubu upfront. "In the earlier tournaments Yakubu was left all alone upfront. We brought him (Mensah) as he had played with Yakubu before and I am glad that the partnership gave that nip in the attack," the Mahindra coach said.
What was more creditable was that Mensah, who played with Yakubu for almost three years for Great Olympus, was down with malaria just a week ago and had very little time to practice with the team.
Pereira was also relieved that the team was triumphant against a formidable opponent despite not playing to its potential. "All the other matches in the opening round have seen upset. We were also worried given the fact that Dempo have a very balanced squad," he said.
More than the loss, Dempo coach Armanda Colaco would be more worried about the below par performance of his midfield - considered to be the best in the tournament - though their free flowing style was hampered by an uneven Cooperage pitch.
Colaco gives media a miss
Colaco's aversion to media is well known. But it was surprising that neither the coach nor skipper Roberto Silva turned up for the post-match media briefing. When asked about their whereabouts, the only answer the team members gave was, "we don't know. They must have left".