Sony Norde once again came to Mohun Bagan’s rescue as the star Haitian winger struck from a solo run to script a hard-fought 1-0 win over title contenders Neroca FC in an I-League clash on Saturday.
Both the teams tried their best to go one up but Mohun Bagan lacked cohesion while the Imphal outfit lacked the finishing touch.
But Norde had other ideas as the Mariners captain struck in the 79th minute with a clinical finish to avenge their 1-2 defeat in the first leg in front of 7500-odd fans at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Norde capitalised on a lovely midfield placing from Darren Caldeira and made a solo run past the Neroca defence before slamming past the right of an outstretched Lalit Thapa to the far bottom corner.
This was Mohun Bagan’s second successive win under newly appointed head coach Khalid Jamil, who took over the reins from Shankarlal Chakraborty after they lost their fourth match of the season.
Mohun Bagan climbed past arch rivals East Bengal to fifth spot with 21 points, giving them the much needed oxygen before the return leg derby on January 27.
The former champions had lost the first leg derby 2-3.
Mohun Bagan also denied the last season’s runners-up Neroca an opportunity to join Chennai City at the top of the table, and the Imphal outfit remained on fourth place with 21 points from 12 matches.
The visitors were the more dominant side and created more chances than the hosts but a string of impressive saves by Mohun Bagan custodian Shilton Paul kept them at bay.
The 30-year-old stood tall in the first-half and denied Subhash Singh’s powerful left-footer in the 26th minute.
Paul was also lucky to have escaped a red card in the 52nd minute when he punched former team-mate Katsumi Yusa inside the penalty box, which went unnoticed by referee Umesh Bora.
Jamil made a single change to the side that won against Minerva FC as a fit-again Lalchhawnkima was reinstated in central defence in place of Dalraj Singh.
Manuel Fraile preferred to stick to the winning XI that defeated Shillong Lajong.
The first real opportunity came after the half-hour mark when Mohun Bagan looked to score off Abhishek Ambekar’s lofted shot from a loose ball in the 36th minute.
But Neroca custodian Thapa managed to keep the ball out of the goal-line, despite him going into the net.
A couple of minutes later, the Mohun Bagan defence looked in shambles as a surging Malemnganba Meitei shot to the right of Pal.
Felix Chidi took the ball from deflection but his strike hit the outer side-netting, much to the relief of Mohun Bagan spectators.
Mohun Bagan looked largely unimpressive with an unimaginative play and lack of creativity in the midfield.
Playing upfront, Yuta Kinowaki and Aser Dipanda Dicka failed to make any impact as the team mostly banked on Norde.
Norde got an opportunity to double the lead moments after scoring the goal, but an alert Thapa came on his way, and his angled shot flew over the crossbar.