Kolkata, April 4 (IANS) Mohun Bagan registered their first win in this year’s AFC Cup group stages as they rallied from one goal down to beat Abahani Limited Dhaka 3-1 in their Group E second-round football clash here at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium on Tuesday.
In front of a motley crowd on a weekday, Sanjoy Sen’s charges — who have not prioritised the continental competition this term as much as the I-League — saw Jeje Lalpekhlua (45th), Balwant Singh (48th) and Sony Norde (87th) cancel out Wales striker Jonathan Brown’s (21st) opener for the away side.
The result saw Bagan log three points from two games as they lost their opening encounter 1-2 against Bengaluru FC. Abahani, meanwhile, succumbed to their second straight defeat to stay at the foot of the group. Bengaluru are top of the heap having won earlier by a 1-0 margin against the Maldives’ Maziya Sports and Recreation.
As expected, Bagan made wholesale changes to the side that trounced Bengaluru 3-0 in the weekend. Anas Edathodika, Pritam Kotal, Souvik Chakraborty, Azharuddin Mallick and Darryl Duffy made way for Kingshuk Debnath, Sarthak Golui, Bikramjit Singh, Jeje and Balwant Singh.
Abahani took the lead much to everyone’s surprise when striker Mohammad Ziban darted down the right hand channel to cut in and square for an unmarked Brown to score off his first touch.
In the 27th minute, Bagan had three back-to-back chances to equalise but Yusa Katsumi once and Balwant twice took turns to miss the target.
There was a two minute break when Jordan referee Mohammad Mousa was disturbed by a fly in the eye, needing help from the Bagan medical team.
Right on the brink of halftime, Bagan pegged back through Jeje. After Balwant found Norde inside the area, the Haitian deftly passed the ball to a lurking Jeje who applied a left-footed first time to bulge the net.
Bagan nosed ahead three minutes into the second period. Katsumi beat his marker to set up Balwant from the edge of the box. The former Churchill Brothers marksman made no mistake, putting the ball beyond goalkeeper Sahidul Alam’s reach.
In the 62nd minute, Abahani almost drew level when the ball spent a lot of time precariously close to Bagan goal but all of the visiting players failed to get enough on it with Debjit Mazumdar gathering easily at the end.
Balwant missed a gilt-edged chance to pull away in the 77th minute when he saw his shot from close being saved acrobatically by Sahidul diving to his right as the green and maroon shirts took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Sahidul pulled off another good save before Norde put the match to bed with a delectable strike at the far post.
Balwant could have had a brace in the dying minutes of the game but Sahidul saved well again to bring the match to an end.