A LAST MINUTE goal by Munmun Lugun got Mohammedan Sporting a 1-0 win over Garhwal FC in their I-League Qualifiers 2020 campaign opener.
After Bhawanipore FC beat FC Bengaluru United 2-0 earlier today, the pressure was on the Black Panthers to get off to a winning start and although after some fierce defending from Garhwal and Willis Plaza hitting the woodwork twice the game looked set for a goalless draw, the former Punjab FC defender scored an absolutely stunning goal to ensure that Mohammedan Sporting left the field with full 3 points.
You can watch the whole match right here, courtesy the 1Sports Facebook page.
Yan Law's Mohammedan Sporting came into the game with a lot of hype behind them. Seen as one of the favourites, the club has taken major strides towards modernisation recently, including singing an investor with the express intention of playing in the ISL in the future. But winning the I-League Qualifiers to claim a place in I-League 2020-21 is crucial to kick start the 129 year old club's national revival, and the fans' high expectations has been putting a lot of pressure on the players. This was evident in the match today, even though the game was held behind closed doors at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium.
Mohammedan Sporting were the better side overall and started out on the stronger foot, creating the better chances. Garhwal FC were nothing to scoff at, with a solid defence and a talented custodian in Sayak Barai. Although MSC were making the right moves, especially up the right flank via Vanlalbiaa Chhangte, the finishing from his well-placed crosses was missing. The Garhwal defence kept MSC attackers at bay throughout the first half, although a couple of good chances came their way; including a brilliant run into the box by Himanshu Jangra.
Garhwal were making a couple of attempts as well, mostly through long balls and counters. But none too lethal, at least early in the game.
Mohammedan got a golden chance to take the lead early in the second half when Gani Ahmed Nigam got brought down inside the Garhwal box and the referee Ajitkumar Meitei Lairenlakpam. Plaza, the former I-League top scorer, stepped up to take the spot kick. His shot sent Garhwal custodian Sayak the other way but ended up hitting the woodwork.
As if squandering a penalty opportunity in a cut-throat competition like this wasn't bad enough, minutes later Plaza hit the woodwork again, this time from open play.
As the clock winded down, it seemed like Garhwal had actually managed to pull off the monumentous task of holding the Mohammedan attack back to earn a draw. Then, with just over a minute of regulation time left, the boys in green got a golden opportunity. Victor's clever pass suddenly found Uttam Rai darting past the Mohammedan backline, with just the MSC keeper Priyant Singh in front of him. For a moment, it looked like Garhwal were about to take the lead in an unbelievable turn of events. But Uttam ended up shooting it wide.
Losing that precious opportunity is perhaps what came back to bite Garhwal in the last of the 4 minutes added on by the referee. A lofted shot taken by Munmun Lugun from outside the box caught Sayak off guard. It originated from behind some defenders, causing the keeper to see it late. By the time he saw it, it was too late for him to judge its precarious dip just below the crossbar.
Euphoria broke out at the Mohammedan sideline when the ball leapt into the net. The Black Panthers, who put a lot of stake on this campaign, needed a win to stay on course; given how short the competition is. And Yan Law's boys, going up against a resilient technically-underdog side that's hardly inferior in terms of grit and skill, managed to get the desired result in the end.
Despite the loss, the match does offer up a lot of positives for the Garhwal FC side coached by Vikas Rawat. The team has showed that on their day they're capable of beating any other team in the I-League Qualifiers. They will get a chance to do just that on 11th October when they take on Bengaluru United, on the same day Mohammedan Sporting continue their campaign by facing off with ARA FC, another dark horse in the competition.