Calcutta: Karim Bencharifa was swinging his arms, thumping his chest and pointing towards the galleries trying to prove a thing or two. Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Pune FC in the I-League gave the Mohun Bagan coach a lifeline after being put on notice following the team’s unimpressive performance.
Mohun Bagan’s return to winning ways came via two goals from Okolie Odafe and Ram Malik’s lone strike. Substitute Thongkhosiem Haokip netted for the visitors.
Odafe, whose lean patch has been linked to Mohun Bagan’s slump, showed glimpses of his return to form at the Barasat Stadium. He could have scored at least on two more occasions, including a free kick that hit the cross-piece.
“The start of a new life,” remarked Odafe after the victory.
Bencharifa couldn’t hide his happiness. “I was hurt by all the talk that had been going around…
“I heard every game was my last game… But the management kept supporting me…I am very happy and proud of the players… The team has become more united in the last ten days,” felt the coach.
Mohun Bagan started off on a positive note knowing well that a wrong step could have huge ramifications. Pune FC tried to make early inroads but couldn’t make much headway in the face of an organised rival defence.With Ram Malik making his presence felt in the wings, Mohun Bagan’s attacks gathered momentum. Both teams struggled to make openings in the first 30 minutes. Okolie opened the scoreline when Chizoba Christopher’s minus from the left found Sabeeth Sathyan. His push was palmed away by goalie Amrinder Singh, but Odafe, who was lurking nearby in the ensuing melee, placed it into the net.
Bagan survived narrowly when Calum Angus’ header was saved on the goalline by Sabeeth at the start of the second session.
Bagan’s second goal came when Christopher’s pass found Ram in the clear. With the rival goalie out of position, Ram placed into an open net.
Pune FC tried to stage a comeback of sorts when Haokip scored after the ball had ricocheted off the post.
But Odafe put it beyond the visitors three minutes before the scheduled close. He ran a good 25 yards almost unchallenged before placing it past the goalie.
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul, Souvik Ghosh, Aniyechie Echezona, Rowilson Rodrigues, Pritam Kotal, Denson Devdas, Katsumi Yusa, Ram Malik (Rajib Ghorui, 92 min), Sabeeth Sathyan (Shaiju Mon, 47; Pankaj Moula, 67), Chizoba Christopher, Okolie Odafe.
Pune FC: Amrinder Singh, Othallo Tabia, Calum Angus, Gurjinder Kuma, Mustafa Rahamat, Arata Izumi (Thongkhosiem Haokip, 45), James Meyer, Douhou Pierre, Anas Edathodika, Anthony D’Souza (Velington Rocha, 70), Fanai Lalrempuia (Mumtaz Akhtar, 70).
Referee: Umesh Bora.
MoM: Okolie Odafe.