Subair Muritala Ali capitalised on a moment of indiscretion by Chirag United and that was all Mahindra United needed to be the first among equals at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Sunday evening.
Why Chirag United's backline didn't close down Ali when a header flew towards him could haunt Chirag for the rest of I-League 3. With the time and space unexpected from a team whose defence looked well drilled before and after that moment, Ali fired a back-volley that left goalie Sandip Nandy stranded.
Minutes after Ali, making use of space on the right, fired a grounder that hit the upright and on the rebound, N.P. Pradeep blazed over.
It's status quo at the top of the table with Dempo in front followed by Mahindra United and Chirag United but for large swathes of this 18th round encounter, the Kolkata team looked like they could change the equation.
Barring a 10-minute phase at the start of the second half, Mahindra United didn't look like they would glean full points. But by holding Steven Dias back and channeling their efforts from the left, Mahindra United asked Chirag United some uncomfortable questions in that period. Thereafter, Chirag United drove down the middle, introduced Shylo Malsawmtluanga to add zip to their sorties and managed a string of half-chances. Denson Devdas's late header or that of Josimar a little earlier were close but never close enough to be the equaliser they deserved.
Scores: Mahindra United 1 (Muritala Ali) bt Chirag United 0