Mohun Bagan clinched the I-League 2019-’20 title with a 1-0 win over Aizawl FC at Kalyani Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.

This is the Kolkata giants’ second I-League title in five years. They took their points tally to 39 in 16 matches, with just one defeat all season to go with 12 wins and three draws. The Mariners have clinched the title with four games still to be played this season.

In the 80th minute of the match Joseba Beitia passed the ball to Baba Diawara, who slotted it into the bottom corner, sending the crowd into frenzy.

When these two met in the league opener, the game had resulted in a dour goalless draw at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Aizawl, over three months back. The fortunes have changed since for both sides with the Mariners going on to have a near-flawless season while former champions Aizawl are struggling at the bottom of the table.

Mohun Bagan have now gone 14 matches unbeaten in the league, after losing their solitary match of the season so far against Churchill Brothers in December.

Year Champions
2007–08 Dempo 
2008–09 Churchill Brothers 
2009–10 Dempo
2010–11 Salgaocar
2011–12 Dempo
2012–13 Churchill Brothers
2013–14 Bengaluru
2014–15 Mohun Bagan
2015–16 Bengaluru
2016–17 Aizawl
2017–18 Punjab 
2018–19 Chennai City 

it is worth remembering that this would be the last season Mohun Bagan compete in the I-League. The Mariners had earlier announced a merger with Indian Super League side ATK.

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In the other match of the day Neroca FC beat Punjab 4-3 in a thriller to put an end to the faint hopes the former champions had of catching up with Mohun Bagan.

Prolific Senegalese striker Diawara scored the all-important goal for Mohun Bagan in the 80th minute to beat former champions Aizawl in their 16th round match and give their supporters a memorable Holi gift. It was former Sevilla striker’s 10th goal from nine consecutive games.

Mohun Bagan also matched Dempo’s record of wrapping up I-League title with maximum matches left to play. Dempo SC of Goa had also sealed the I-League title in 2009-’10 season with four matches left to play.

The title in their pocket, Mohun Bagan will also enter their second leg Kolkata Derby match against arch rivals East Bengal for one last time as a confident side. They had beaten East Bengal 2-1 in the first leg in January.

Aizawl were not intimidated either by the occasion or the 17,000 partisan home crowd which had packed the stands as they dished out a thoroughly professional performance in the first half.

Joe Zoeherliana and Rochharzela were a constant threat on the right and Paul Ramfangzuawa was also getting himself into a lot of space in the middle of the park.

Rochharzela, in fact, had the first crack at goal in the 12th minute and goalkeeper Sankar had to go full stretch to bring about his first save of the game. He had a second crack in the 34th minute, this time from a closer range, but was wide of the target.

The visitors’ defence was also much more organised and Ghanaian Joseph Adjei’s marking of Diawara was paying initial dividends.

Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, had more possession in the first quarter of the hour but were finding it difficult to get a clear sight at goal. Diawara almost dribbled through once from a Tursunov-Naorem move and Suhair had the first shot on target from a distance for the home side at the half-hour mark.

The deadlock remained at the end of the first 45 minutes and to Aizawl’s credit, they did not put a step back even in the second half.

Jaryan hit a free-kick early but it went straight to Sankar and that was probably the last strong approach Aizawl had in the game.

Mohun Bagan began to step up with around 20 minutes left on the clock. Naorem found Diawara with a fine ball inside the goalkeeper’s area but Zothanmawia did well to snatch it from his head and Ashutosh Mehta had a go at the Aizawl goal but missed the target.

Beitia then initiated a move that involved successively Naorem, Tursunov and finally Mehta, but the resulting cross which met with a Diawara header went off target.

The title-winning goal finally came in the 80th minute to send the Kalyani Stadium into a frenzy. It was Beitia again who began the move and after reaching near the box, squared the ball to Diawara.

Kasagga could have done better to stop the ball from reaching Diawara but once it was with the Senagalese striker and with space in front of him, it was always going to be dangerous.

Diawara once again came up with a clinical finish under pressure as he unleashed a fierce grounder which beat the Aizawl keeper all along to hit the net.

As Mohun Bagan saw off the final minutes, the stands erupted in colourful celebrations.

Neroca win seven-goal thriller

It rained goals in Imphal in an entertaining match with Neroca emerging 4-3 winners against Punjab FC thanks to a hat-trick from Ghnaian striker Phillip Adjah Tettey at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium in Imphal.

Tettey gave Neroca the lead in the fifth minute before Dipanda Dicka restored parity three minutes later by scoring his 50th I-League goal. Tettey scored his second in the 37th minute to reclaim Neroca’s advantage before substitute Girik Mahesh Khosla (59th) brought Punjab back to level terms near the hour mark.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men after Yumnam Raju was sent off for a second bookable offence. Neroca soon raced to a 4-2 lead, courtesy of an own goal from Punjab’s Danilo (75th) and shortly afterwards, Tettey scored his third of the match in the 82nd minute.

(With PTI inputs)