Daniel Lalhlimpuia came off the bench to score the winner as Bengaluru FC finally got the better of Mumbai FC 1-0 at Bangalore. The win has ensured the final twist in the title tale as Bengaluru are now level with Mohun Bagan with one game in hand with East Bengal just behind by two points.
Indian national team captain Sunil Chhetri was once again absent from the lineup, but midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh returned to action after recovering from his injury.
The encounters between Bengaluru and Mumbai have turned into a war of sorts over the years. Khalid Jamil and Ashley Westwood do not share the most amicable relation, while the Bengaluru FC fans have 'targeted' the Mumbai manager in the past. Bengaluru have not been able to defeat Mumbai in their last five matches, four of which have ended in a draw, and Westwood was desperate to turn the tide in this game.
East Bengal's win against Mohun Bagan meant Bengaluru had the chance to go level on points with the defending champions at the top of the table – with a match in hand.
The match saw a very cagey opening from both the teams. Neither of them were able to stamp their authority in the midfield, and it had all the signs of being a drab affair.
Most of the action on the pitch took place on Bengaluru's right wing, with both Rino Anto and Clyde Fernandes coming under immense pressure. Mumbai and Bengaluru drilled in a lot of crosses into the box, but we had to wait for 24 minutes before someone produced a meaningful header.
Thoi Singh picked out Kim Song-Yong with a lovely cross, and his powerful header went straight to the goalkeeper Pawan Kumar, who could have easily been mistaken for Manuel Neuer on the night.
With Mumbai playing a high line at the back, Pawan Kumar had to be on his toes as Bengaluru tried to break the offside trap, time and again, with long balls from the midfield. Pawan Kumar had to play the role of a sweeper-keeper, the role which has been perfected by the German No.1.
Eventually, Bengaluru began to dominate possession after the first 30 minutes, but they failed to manufacture any decent chances from all of their build-up play. It was goalless at halftime, with Bengaluru on the verge of missing out a great chance to make the title-race even more interesting.
The home side came out with much more attacking intent in the second half, and they missed four gilt-edged chances in the space of five minutes at the hour mark. The first of those arrived in the 59th minute, when Kim Song-Yong won the ball from Eric Brown, before setting up CK Vineeth for the finish. However, the forward took too long to get his shot away and handed the ball over to Thoi Singh, and the chance was gone by then.
Few seconds later, Vineeth had a chance to place the ball at the far corner of the net from inside the box, but his shot went wide. Len Doungel had the chance to direct the ball in at the far post, but he missed his shot as well. That was the first of three consecutive misses by Doungel, from one of which he hit the bar after attempting to direct the ball towards the near post from a cross from the right wing by Thoi.
Eugeneson too tried his luck from the distance after a trademark run and shot, but Pawan Kumar was equal to the task.
With Mumbai players tiring out, Bengaluru were opening them up at the back with relative ease and, eventually, in the 81st minute the home side were able to take the lead.
Eugeneson played a lovely ball over the top of the Mumbai defence for Vineeth to run onto. Pawan Kumar, like he had done all night long, came off his line once again, but this time he missed the ball completely. Vineeth ran to the byline, before cutting it back for Daniel Lalhlimpuia to turn it into an empty net. The 18-year-old scored what turned out to be the winning goal after coming on as a substitute in the 75th minute.
The match ended 1-0, and Bengaluru are now the joint-leaders at the top of the table with Mohun Bagan, with a game in hand. Mumbai, meanwhile, have now settled at the bottom of the table after making such a promising start to the season.
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