Former champions Mohun Bagan, under new coach Khalid Jamil, raised hopes of a top-half finish and an outside chance at the I-League title yet again, getting the better of champions Minerva Punjab FC.
A goal in each half at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata was enough for Bagan to bag the much-needed three points at home.
Egyptian midfielder Omar Elhussieny struck a first-half penalty and Cameroonian striker Dipanda Dicka scored his fifth of the campaign in the second, to give Bagan their fifth win of the league, taking them up to 18 points from 12 games and consolidating their sixth position on the 11-team points table.
Minerva remains on 13 points from as many games and in the seventh position on the table with their title defence looking quite improbable from here on.
New coach Khalid Jamil opted to play both Gurjinder and Dalraj in the Bagan defence and brought back Abhishek Ambekar in the left-back position, placing Arijit Bagui on the bench after a long time. He also did not start Ugandan forward Henry Kisekka and began with Dicka as the lone striker up front, with Haitian star Sony Norde on the left wing.
Minerva’s Irish coach Paul Munster, on the day, started with yet another new combination of Yu Kuboki and Prabhjot Singh upfront as star striker William Opoku was out with injury.
Bagan dominated possession from the get-go, while Minerva defended with nine in their half and it seemed for a while that the home team lacked ideas on how to find a way through.
Omar it was, who first found an opening, releasing Dicka into the box on the right with a wonderfully weighted ball. The Cameroonian seemed to have been brought down by Minerva full back Lancine Toure. However, referee Srikrishna Ramaswamy did not blow for a penalty.
He did award the Green and Maroons a spot-kick, however, at the half-hour mark, with the same attacker-defender combination involved, only this time on the other side of the box and the ball this time coming in from Sony Norde. Omar made no mistake from the spot to put Bagan ahead.
The hosts took the one-goal advantage into the break and the second half began in the same fashion as the first with Minerva still finding it difficult to push up front amidst controlled possessional play by Bagan.
Minerva’s compact defence was breached for a second time in the 69th minute when a Sony through ball to Dicka saw the two-time top scorer of the Hero I-League jump the off-side trap to beat Bhaskar Roy in the Minerva goal with a clinical finish.
Five minutes later Omar had a chance to put Bagan three up when great build-up play by SK Faiaz and Bagan’s Japanese midfielder Yuta Kinowaki, saw the latter set up the Egyptian for a shot on goal, but Roy palmed the stinging effort out of danger.
Minerva continued their struggle to find a good attacking formation and with Opoku out with injury, the task seemed even more arduous. Paul Munster brought on the likes of Moinuddin (in place of Kuboki), Dilliram Sanyasi and Makan Winkle Chote in the second half, but the goal remained elusive.
Mohun Bagan moves on to play Neroca FC at the same venue in two days time, while Minerva Punjab now enjoys a 10-day break before taking on Gokulam Kerala at home.