Mumbai: Mumbai FC ended their Hero I-League campaign on a high with a 2-1 win over Kalyani Bharat FC at the Cooperage football ground on Saturday.
The result helped Mumbai achieve their best-ever finish in the I-League as they are placed sixth on the table with 24 points.
Playing in extremely humid and muggy conditions, the hosts needed three points to be assured of safety as they were one of the five teams involved in the battle to avoid relegation. And they did just that, thanks to goals from Ashutosh Mehta and Taisuke Matsugae.
With 18 points from 20 matches, Bharat FC finished at the bottom of the table. However, they were spared from relegation as they are one of the new franchise teams The league rules give them a cushion for the first three years.
Both teams started with a lot of purpose. Bharat FC got a great opportunity to take the lead in the fourth minute. But Dharmaraj Ravanan’s header off a Steven Dias corner sailed harmlessly over the bar. That was the only time the visitors came close to scoring in the first half. Mumbai took control of the proceedings soon after that attempt and their Japanese import Matsugae came close to scoring a goal. He pounced on a loose ball inside Bharat FC box and tried to unleash a shot. But his effort was smothered by an onrushing Shaninlal Meloly.
The hosts broke the deadlock in the 10th minute. Mehta leapt over the defenders in a crowded box and scored a brilliant header from a corner to give Mumbai the lead. But both teams lost steam and were tired owing to the extremely humid climate.
Mumbai FC protected their lead going into the half time but Bharat looked rejuvenated in the second half after their coach Stuart Watkiss introduced Omar Jarun in place of Subhash Singh. Omar’s towering presence unsettled the Mumbai defence. Both teams cancelled each other out for most part of the second half but Jarun made the most of a half-chance that came his way.
In the 69th minute, substitute Surajit Bose split the Mumbai defence with a through ball. It released Jarun, who was one on one with Mumbai goalkeeper Kunal Sawant. With the ball running away from him, Jarun made the most of his height and stretched his legs to lob it over an onrushing Sawant. Abhishek Yadav, who had come in as a substotute mimutes earlier, tried to clear it off the line but headed it in his own net instead.
Bharat could have won the match but Romulao Boco’s brilliant shot from edge of the box hit the cross bar. Boco, who held the midfield together for the visitors, was named Hero of the Match.
Just when it seemed the match was heading for a draw, Matsugae scored a brilliant header from a Mohammad Rafi cross in the stoppage time to clinch the win for Mumbai.
Photo Courtesy: Vishal Patel