A SPECTACULAR LATE COMEBACK, aided by a Jeje Lalpekhlua brace, saw Mohun Bagan break Salgaocar's lead to clinch a 2-3 win at Tilak Maidan, Goa, in a first round quarter-final contest for the Federation Cup.
Devoid of winger Sony Norde and striker Cornell Glen, Mohun Bagan fielded Subhash Singh up front along with Jeje Lalpekhlua. In the wings, Sanjoy Sen decided to play swap Katsumi Yusa to the left wing, giving Kean Lewis a rare start on the right wing.
The match started with Mohun Bagan taking the lead straight away. It was Subhash Singh running up the right flank and sending one in for Jeje and the latter heading it in.
But as the match went on it became clear that the Mariners were not feeling very up for the fight. The bad ground conditions and the afternoon heat was affecting them, and the attackers were not well-coordinated. Kean Lewis was having trouble with his passing accuracy while Subhash and Jeje went on a spree of shooting wide.
Meanwhile, Darryl Duffy was slowly piling pressure on the Bagan defence. He caught Debjit Majumder out of position early on with a shot that was saved on the goal-line by Kingshuk Debnath.
It wasn't long before Salgaocar were level. Thangjam Saran Singh supplied the ball who wasn't in the ideal scoring range but let fly quickly, with enough power behind it to beat Debjit. It was 1-1.
And within minutes Salgaocar took the lead. Darryl Duffy came in from the left, sent a high one into the box, and Calvin Mbarga easily out-jumped everyone to make the header. Suddenly, Mohun Bagan were trailing. Salgaocar were 2-1 ahead.
Salgaocar almost got their third when Darryl Duffy broke the Bagan defensive line, sprinting towards a near-open goal. Luciano Sabrosa flew in to make a tackle and kept the Mariners in the game. Duffy got another chance to score when Augustine Fernandes sent a long ball ahead but the striker's header went straight to Debjit.
The second half began with Mohun Bagan frantically searching for an equaliser. Kean Lewis tried a cross that was nowhere on target. Katsumi Yusa took a corner kick that Karanjit sent over the bar. A subsequent free kick that Katsumi took was also way off target.
Prabir Das came in to replace Kean Lewis. And Pronay Halder picked up his usual booking. Martin Scott took a shot from a Jackichand Singh pass but Debjit managed to keep it out. Jeje Lalpekhlua looked threatening, got the ball from Prabir Das and pulled the trigger on the turn... Karanjit saved it.
The game changed when Abhishek Das was introduced, as a sub for Subhash Singh. Within a minute of coming on, the young right back was right on the money when Katsumi Yusa made his way up the flank and sent an inch-perfect cross for Abhishek to slot into the goal. Bagan were level. It was 2-2, with 13 minutes left on the clock. Soon Katsumi Yusa slotted another one in, but this one was ruled out for offside.
But before long, it was Jeje Lalpekhlua who delivered the final blow to Salgaocar. Luciano Sabrosa sent a heightened ball that Jeje received with his chest, beat a defender and made sure the ball found the net. Mohun Bagan had found the winning goal with minutes to spare.
The late comeback ensured that the Mariners got their Federation Cup campaign off with an away win; which means Salgaocar will likely have to beat them by 2 goals to come out on top in this quarter-final double header. It was also significant as the first ever win Mohun Bagan have bagged without Sony Norde since the Haitian winger re-joined the club back in January. But nonetheless, the performance left much to be desired in terms of defensive stability; and the half-baked way their attack was functioning throughout the first half.
Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen must be relieved to go back from Goa with a win, but he will need his two main attackers - Sony and Glen - to be back in the ranks if the Green and Maroons are to go far in this tournament.