Diawara header sends Mariners nine points clear at Hero I-League summit

Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan continued their surge towards the 13th Hero I-League title with a 1-0 win over second-placed Punjab FC at the Kalyani Municipality Stadium on Sunday (February 09).

Papa Babacar Diawara scored what turned out to be the match-winner in the 42nd minute.

Kibu Vicuna showed faith in his previous eleven, naming an unchanged line-up while Punjab Head Coach Yan Law named three changes. Centre-half Danilo returned to the line-up alongside Thoiba Singh, who was preferred over Makan Winkle Chothe. New signing Eze Kinsley also made his debut, starting against his former side.

The league leaders pressed hard from the get-go, not allowing Punjab a moment’s respite. Vicuna’s men converted plans into practice on the pitch, playing out from the back with short passes and recovering possession soon after losing it through rigorous pressing.

However, for the first half an hour, the match lacked clear cut opportunities with the closest effort being a Komron Tursunov shot from distance in the 13th minute.

Against the run of play, the visitors caught Mohun Bagan on the break in the 31st minute. Joseba Beitia lost possession cheaply to Sergio Barboza, who got away with sheer pace down the left flank before playing it to Dicka. However, keeper Sankar Roy did well to close him down as the Cameroonian’s effort fizzled just wide off the near post.

In the 39th minute, a cross from Ashutosh Mehta was spilt by Punjab keeper Kiran Limbu. VP Suhair was lurking in the box to have a second bite of the cherry but his goal-bound attempt was cleared off the line brilliantly by Danilo.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 42nd minute when a long throw-in from Dhanachandra Singh wasn’t dealt with by Anwar Ali, who failed to clear his lines and instead, gifted the ball to Papa Diawara. The former Sevilla forward made absolutely no mistake in heading home from a couple of yards to give his side the lead going into half-time.

Mohun Bagan continued to make better use of possession in the second half. At the hour mark, Tursunov drew a foul towards him and cleverly so, with nowhere to run and earned a free-kick in a really inviting position — about 25 yards from goal. Beitia, instead of going for goal, dinked it into the box for Fran Morante, who had made a smart run. The Spaniard made no mistake with his finish, but to his disappointment, he was flagged offside.

Punjab started enjoying more off the ball at this point, but failed to carve any real opening. Dipanda Dicka, who had a quiet game, had his first attempt on goal in the 82nd minute but his left-footed drive flashed across goal, leaving Sankar untroubled.

Nongdamba Naorem was relentless and near the halfway line, he won possession back for his team. He ran the entire length of the Punjab half before putting Beitia through on goal but the Basque midfielder missed with only the keeper to beat.

The match boiled over at few points, with referee Santhosh Kumar brandishing seven yellow cards – four for Mohun Bagan and three for Punjab. The visitors enjoyed 55% possession but had only three shots on goal, while Mohun Bagan had 21, with twelve being on target.

The Mariners held on for their third straight win and now have a nine-point lead at the top of the Hero I-League standings. Punjab FC remain on second but will drop places if Real Kashmir and Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) win their subsequent fixtures, with the Srinagar outfit travelling to Ludhiana next on 16th February 2020.

Match-winner Papa Babacar Diawara was adjudged to be the Hero of the Match.


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