Mohammedan Sporting qualified for the 2020-21 I-League, beating local rivals Bhawanipore FC in their I-League Qualifiers 2020 match at the Kalyani Stadium on October 16. Goals from Vanlalbiaa Chhangte and Gani Nigam gave Mohammedan a 2-0 win and nine points in the kitty. They sealed top spot in the five-team single round-robin competition with a round of matches left to play, earning a return to the I-League after a gap of seven years.
Mohammedan are now three points ahead of Bhawanipore — who also have one game let to play on the final day of competition next Monday. However, even if both the teams end up tied on nine points, Mohammedan would remain on top thanks to today’s win.
The first half of what was a virtual final began with Mohammedan almost scoring in the third minute. A freekick found Chhangte inside the box and he launched a powerful shot on goal from close range, only to be denied by a diving Shilton Paul.
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That set the tone for the rest of the game with Mohammedan keeping possession and Bhawanipore looking to catch them by surprise on the counter — a strategy which paid rich dividends for Sankarlal Chakraborty’s in their two previous games.
Midfielder Firoj Ali came close to finding the target from long range for the Black Panthers in the 18th minute, but Paul blocked away the shot for a corner. Six minutes later, Bhawanipore’s star forward Philip Adjah almost gave his side the lead on the other end of the pitch. Latching on to a weak clearance, the Ghanaian targeted Priyant Singh’s near post from the edge of the penalty area but saw his effort get deflected, hit the post and return to play.
On the very next attack, in the 27th minute, Mohammedan claimed the lead through Chhangte — who was not to be denied this time by Shilton. The move began with some beautiful build-up play between Chhangte and Willis Plaza down the right flank, with the latter finding SK Faiaz inside the box with a pinpoint through-pass. The forward laid it off for an onrushing Chhangte with a delectable first touch and the winger rounded Shilton to score and give his side the lead.
Bhawanipore sparked into life after the goal as they looked to find the equalizer before the break but couldn’t manage.
Sankarlal opted to make attacking changes in the second half as Bhawanipore hunted for the equalizer. Eight minutes after the restart, Pankaj Moula, who already has two goals to his name in the tournament, found himself on the end of a cross from the left flank but his header was deflected wide for a corner.
As the match wore on, things started to get a little physical. In the 64th minute, Adjah had another glorious chance to put his side on level terms as he cut in from the left flank after beating two defenders. In a one-on-one situation, he shot straight at Priyant, who blocked it with ease.
Bhawanipore were then made to pay for their missed chances in the 67th minute when substitute Gani Nigam doubled Mohammedan’s lead. Safiul Rahaman swung in a free-kick from the right, which came off Monotosh Chakladar and reached Nigam at the far post. He chested the ball calmly and slotted home through Shilton’s legs.
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Despite the setback, Bhawanipore continued to pour men forward and in the 79th minute, they almost reduced the deficit — only to be denied by a brilliant save. Avinabo Bag played in a swerving cross for Jiten Murmu, who headed the ball on target but Priyant acrobatically dived to his right to turn the ball away for a corner.
“It’s a great feeling for all of us to qualify for the Hero I-League. It means a lot to us. Qualifying this time is a very good thing for the club and our supporters,” said Mohammedan’s assistant coach Saheed Ramon after the match.
“We had studied Bhawanipore’s game and knew that they are strong on the counter-attack. We put out our strategy according to that and it worked well,” he added.
“The defeat is disappointing, of course. We knew that Mohammedan are strong and they played well. We had our fair share of chances and if we could convert them, the result would have been different. Now, our focus on the next match against ARA FC on October 19,” said Bhawanipore head coach Sankarlal.
On Monday (October 19), Mohammedan Sporting will face FC Bengaluru United at the VYBK Stadium while Bhawanipore will take on ARA FC in Kalyani.
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