Barasat: Former champions Mohun Bagan rode on a Balwant Singh first-half strike and held their nerves after being reduced to 10 men to secure a hard-fought 1-0 win over Churchill Brothers in their 10th I-League opener at Barasat in West Bengal on Sunday.
After some half-hearted attempts, Mohun Bagan's 'lucky charm' Balwant gave them the lead with his 28th minute header against the only Goan team in the league.
Making a comeback after nine months, the fit-again Balwant found himself unmarked as he capitalised on Pritam Kotal's precise cross from the right flank before heading the ball into the net.
Down to 10 men in the second-half, the threat of conceding remained till the last minute with some swift free-kicks, but Mohun Bagan returned lucky to earn full three points in their opening match.
The 2015 champions were reduced to 10 players in the 64th minute after a second yellow to Subhasish Bose for his foul on Seriton Fernandes.
Subhasish was warned for the first time in the 55th minute after he had pushed down the visitors captain Keenan Almeida near the touchline.
Churchill had a brilliant opportunity to equalise in the 70th minute when Seriton went past Prabir Das and had only Debjit Majumder to beat under the bar, but his shot went off the mark, much to the home team's respite.
Four minutes left for the regulation time, Angelo's powerful shot missed the target after Churchill earned a free-kick following Pronay Halder's foul.
With a minute to go, Churchill came the closest to earn a draw with Angelo Colaco's shot, but the crosspiece came in the way followed by a huge roar from the home supporters.
The 2012-13 champions Churchill Brothers, who were making a comeback into the top division after four seasons, would certainly return disappointed as they came close to scoring on many occasions.
Churchill also were dealt a blow when captain Keenan Almeida suffered a bruise after a challenge with Balwant and had to be stretchered off in the 17th minute, but he returned with a bandaged head to pep up his troops.
Mohun Bagan had a fine chance in the 24th minute to double the lead but Darryl Duffy's shot was collected superbly by the Churchill goalkeeper Priyant Singh with a diving save on the edge of the box.
Updated Date: Jan 08, 2017 23:07:26 IST