Mohammedan SC handed Churchill Brothers their second straight defeat of the season as the Black Panthers, in a scintillating performance, defeated the Red Machines 4-1 at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium on Monday to throw the I-League title race wide open.

Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) Football Club’s win earlier on Monday put the onus on Churchill to perform but the Red Machines failed to pick up any points, which sees them slip to second place behind TRAU on the table on goal difference, with the two sides set to square off in the next round.

Hira Mondal’s strike in the first half was cancelled by Luka Majcen’s penalty, before Vanlalbiaa Chhangte’s goal in the second half and Pedro Manzi’s late brace proved to be the difference between the two sides.

With TRAU closing the gap on Churchill Brothers earlier in the day, courtesy of a 1-0 win over RoundGlass Punjab FC, the Red Machines had to aim for nothing short of a win to regain their three-point lead over the chasing pack. And the early spell of play was in favour of Churchill Brothers as the Red Machines launched attacks after attack on the Mohammedans’ citadel.

As early as the 3rd minute, the Red Machines had breached the Mohammedans’ defence when Clayvin Zuniga danced past multiple defenders before he was robbed of possession inside the box. But, the Black Panthers had some tricks up their sleeves as they started pressing higher up the park, disabling Churchill from playing their style of football.

After surviving the initial barrage of attacks, Mohammedans’ seemed like a team ready to make life difficult for Churchill. Their speed of counter-attacks caught the Churchill defence sleeping on more than one occasion. And in the 15th minute, the Black Panthers took the lead. Hira Mondal’s stellar long-range attempt from distance caught goalkeeper Shilton Paul off guard as the ball swirled into the back of the net handing Mohammedans the lead.

Mohammedans’ advantage was, however, short-lived as in the 20th minute, Bryce Miranda was brought down inside the box by a heavy tackle. Luka Majcen made no mistake from the spot and found the back of the net to make the scoreline read 1-1.

But even after conceding the equaliser, Mohammedans were in no mood to sit back and play cautiously. In the 29th minute, Pedro Manzi combined with Azharuddin Mallick that saw the latter shoot a volley just inches over the bar of Shilton Paul’s goal.

Although Churchill Brothers had more possession, the Red Machines were missing creativity in attack with Luka Majcen and Clayvin Zuniga unable to make the most out of the passes from the midfield. In the 38th minute, the Black Panthers could have taken the lead once again when Hira Mondal’s cross from the left flank was cleared off the line following a thumping header by Pedro Manzi.

However, Churchill Brothers could have gone into the half-time leading, had Clayvin Zuniga’s free-kick from outside the box not hit the post and go out. But, as things stood, the half-time scoreline read 1-1.

The Red Machines came out much stronger in the second half and dominated possession and chances created. However, much against the run of play, Mohammedan SC took the lead in the 65th minute. Pedro Manzi’s wonder strike hit the woodwork and fell into the path of Vanlalbiaa Chhangte, who bundled the ricochet home as the Black Panthers took the lead. However, after taking the lead, it felt like a flood of Churchill Brothers attacks would sweep the Black Panthers away.

First, in the 68th minute, Bazie Armand’s shot from outside of the box that looked like a sure goal earned a brilliant save by the opposition goalkeeper Priyant Singh. Next, a goal-line clearance by Sujit Sadhu aided Mohammedans to maintain their lead.

Not for the ones sitting back, the Red Machine attack force came in full swing trying to salvage a point from the match. Both Luka Majcen and Clayvin Zuniga were fed with numerous through-balls from the midfield but were unable to create a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

But when it is not your day, it just is not your day. In the 86th minute, Pedro Manzi broke free of the defensive line and with the goalkeeper coming out his line, the Spaniard placed a cheeky chip shot that crashed in the back of the net to make it 3-1 for the Mohammedans. Manzi added more gloss to the scoreline in added time of the second half to make it 4-1 for the Black Panthers with a calm finish from close range.

The full-time scoreline read the same as Churchill Brothers fall prey to their second defeat of the I-League season. Meanwhile, with this win, Mohammedan SC go fourth in the I-League with 20 points after 13 matches.

–IANS

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