Mohun Bagan triumphed 3-2 over Chennai City in a closely fought I-League encounter at the Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore on Friday evening.
Two goals from Papa Diawara (27, 28') and another from Fran Gonzalez handed a Bagan an unassailable 3-0 lead. Chennai City fought their way back into the game with a goal each from Vijay N (65') and Jishnu Balakrishnan (70') and if Fito Miranda was not denied by the crosspiece, they could have stolen two points from the league leaders.
Chennai City coach Akbar Nawas made three changes to the starting eleven that went down to East Bengal. Mashoor Shareef, Ajith Kumar, and Srirram B were reinstated in the line-up to revive the fortunes.
Whereas, Kibu Vicuna was forced to make a single change from the last win against NEROCA with Komron Tursunov coming in place of an injured Daniel Cyrus. In the absence of Cyrus, Fran Gonzalez slotted in as a centre back partnering Fran Morante at the heart of defense whereas Tursunov joined Papa Diawara in attack.
It was a brisk start to the match with both the teams testing each other's defensive resolve from the first whistle. Eventually, it were Chennai City in the 11th minute who got the first significant chance of the match when Katsumi Yusa's corner was redirected towards goal by Fito Miranda, but a goal-line save from VP Suhair kept the scores unchanged.
As the game wore on it became evident that set-pieces might turn out to be the difference-maker with the two sides pouring in quality deliveries from dead-ball situations.
In the 27th minute, it was the visitors who drew first blood when Diawara beat his marker in the air and nodded home a finely delivered corner from Joseba Beitia.
Chennai were yet to settle down when the Mariners hammered in the second goal. This time it was Gonzalez who found the net from another flag-kick floated in by Beitia.
Bagan continued to churn out chances and could have tripled their lead in the 35th minute if Suhair had passed the ball to Diawara, who was unmarked, instead of shooting on his own. Minutes later Tursunov got sight of goal and even after cushioning down the ball with a brilliant first touch, the striker shot wide.
Chennai did manage to find a foothold in the match in the final five minutes of the first half but were struggling to create chances from open play. Fito came to close to reduce the deficit but was denied by the crosspiece when his free-kick hit the frame and came back to play.
The match was put to bed in the 49th minute when Diawara scored the third for his side. Morante was quick to lob the ball over Chennai's defense from a free-kick in his own half which sent Nongdamba Naorem through on goal. Santana came out to steal some precious seconds for his defenders to recover but, the youngster selflessly squared the ball to Diawara in support and the Sengalese striker caressed the ball into the net.
With a mountain to climb, it was surprising to see Nawas taking off Yusa even before the hour-mark to bring on Jockson Dhas.
It took a special strike from Vijay N to pull one back for the lions. The substitute had spent hardly four minutes on the pitch and yet he decided to pull the trigger from almost 25 yards out. The venomous shot had enough spin on it to beat Sankar Roy and provide a glimmer of hope to the home fans.
In the 69th minute, Jishnu Balakrishnan scored the second for his side with another screamer. The local lad decided to follow the footsteps of his teammate and tried his luck from distance and fortunately, it took a deflection off SK Sahil before nestling into the net.
With two goals in quick succession, Chennai had found a spring in their feet. They started bombarding Bagan's fort with long rangers with the hope of completing a memorable come back.
But Vicuna's men held their nerves to weather the storm and clinch their seventh victory of the season which further tightened their grip on the first spot. They will return to action on February 9 against Punjab FC at home.