Mohun Bagan maintained their position at the top of the I-League 2019-20 standings with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against hosts Punjab FC in Ludhiana on Tuesday.

Seasoned Cameroonian striker Dipanda Dicka gave the hosts the lead in the first half before young Subha Ghosh snatched an equaliser late in the match.

Bagan now have 14 points from seven games while Punjab move one place up to second with 11 points from eight.

The visitors’ Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna named an unchanged starting line-up from their previous victory against the Indian Arrows. Punjab’s Yan Law, however, made two changes, bringing in Dicka and Samuel Shadap in place of Girik Khosla and Thoiba Singh, who had started their previous game.

At the end of the game, Bagan’s four-match winning streak was halted but Punjab managed to maintain, what is now a seven-game unbeaten run.

The Kolkata giants were the more attacking team off the blocks, but Punjab played the off-side trap to perfection to thwart any clear attacks on goal save a Fran Gonzalez effort early on.

Punjab, who had been working well on the set-pieces, then went ahead off a corner which was taken short by Sanju Pradhan from the right.

Cavin Lobo then floated in a cross, dropping mid-way into the Bagan six-yard box. A lurking Dicka met it with a superb side-volley, body still in the air and holding off a defender, all in one action. It wrong-footed and stunned Sankar Roy in the Bagan goal to give the hosts a valuable lead.

The Kolkata side piled up the pressure after conceding right till the half-time whistle, but the equaliser remained elusive. In between, Punjab had a couple of good counter-attacking moves which had threatened to double the lead.

Punjab were more confident in the second half and the game was more end-to-end as a result with both sides missing a flurry of chances.

An excellent save by Sankar in the 56th minute, his first of three in the half, denied Sergio Barboza, who had found himself one-on-one with the keeper in a delicious position in front of goal.

He then had to dive full-stretch to deny a Sanju Pradhan grounder in the 72nd from going in and Cavin Lobo also hit one in the 82nd, which deflected off defender Dhanachandra Singh, hit the crossbar and went out.

Bagan had their share of easy misses as well. Papa Diawara, Bagan’s Nigerian recruit, found himself in a favourable position in the 60th minute but shot wide.

Spaniard Joseba Beitia then shot over the bar from close in the 68th, while VP Suhair in the 70th also shot wide with only the keeper to beat. And when Bagan substitute and new foreign recruit Komron Tursunov of Tajikistan shot wide from close in the 85th, it looked all but over for the Green and Maroons.

However, the new Bagan sensation and young super-sub Subha Ghosh clearly had other ideas.

A Bagan foray into the Punjab box, dropped harmlessly and favourably for Teah Dennis to clear.

Just as the Liberian defender was looking to do so, Subha who had been following play, crept up at pace from behind, snatched it from the toes of Dennis to get ahead and unleashed a right-footer along the ground which found its way through a bevvy of defensive Punjab legs and across a diving Kiran Limbu in goal, to find the back of the Punjab net.

It was the talented Bagan youngster’s third goal of his debut senior season, and all of them important goals in their own right.

Sankar Roy pulled off his third good save in what turned out to be the last kick of the game when Bali Gagandeep, who had come in place of Dicka in the second half, shot from close. It was heading towards goal but the keeper parried it well and it came off the Bagan upright.

Danillo Augusto, Punjab’s Brazilian defender was awarded the Hero of the Match for a gutsy performance at the back.

Neroca register hard-fought victory over Real Kashmir

Malian forward Boubacar Diarra scored the match-winner as NEROCA FC beat Real Kashmir 1-0 to snap their four-match winless streak in the I-League in Imphal on Tuesday.

Diarra headed home in the 62nd minute to give Neroca their second win of the season at the Khuman Lampak stadium. Neroca also jumped to the seventh spot with eight points from seven matches.

Real Kashmir slipped one spot to 10th, just above bottom-placed Indian Arrows, with six points from six matches.

Neroca head coach Gift Raikhan, seemingly desperate for a change in fortune, made a lot of changes to his line-up. Dhananjoy Singh and Roshan Singh started at the back while Imran Khan and Siam Hanghal formed the pivot in midfield. Varun Thokchom and Pritam Singh started on the flanks, with Diarra and Zico Sekle spearheading the attack.

Real Kashmir head coach David Robertson made just one change to his side, with Farhan Ganie starting ahead of Altamash Sayed, with the remainder of his 4-5-1 system remaining unchanged.

Neroca came close to scoring in the seventh minute when a Siam Hanghal set-piece on the right flank was not dealt with properly inside the Real Kashmir box, which allowed Taryk Sampson with a crack on the goal but his shot missed the target.

It was Hanghal again, in the 10th minute, when he crafted an inch-perfect cross into the box for Diarra, who had a free header on goal from barely a couple of yards out, but he missed an absolute sitter, letting Real Kashmir off the hook once again.

The visitors had their first attempt on goal in the 17th minute, when a scramble in the Neroca box led to the ball falling to Gnohere Krizo, who pulled the trigger from point-blank range, but Neroca were bailed out by a stunning save from their skipper Marvin Devon Phillip.

Real Kashmir had another golden opportunity in the 34th minute when a Mason Robertson delivery found Krizo unmarked, but the chance went begging as he headed over the bar.

Gift Raikhan’s men had another chance to break the deadlock, this time in the first minute of first-half stoppage time, when Diarra was through on goal and with only the keeper to beat, fired his shot straight at him, leaving the two teams level pegging at the break.

The ‘Snow Leopards’ came out in the second half with more intent and had the better of the opening exchanges. Krizo was in the mix yet again as he did well to get to the end of a Kallum Higginbotham cross and forced Devon Phillip into making an outstanding fingertip save.

However, it was Neroca who broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute, when a Pritam Singh cross was connected by a looping header from Diarra, which left Lachenpa backpedalling and helpless as the Khuman Lumpak stadium erupted in celebration.

David Robertson’s side kept pushing hard and they threatened through set-pieces. In the 81st minute, Mason Robertson showed his athletic prowess and pulled off a diving header which would make any forward proud, to connect a Higginbotham corner, but Devon Phillip was again in no mood to let anything past him, pulling off yet another stunning save.