| Jose Ramirez Barreto
Margao: Defending champions Mohun Bagan beat Churchill Brothers 3-2 in their own backyard in a hard-fought National Football League match at the Nehru Stadium on Friday.
After Churchillís Tiken Singh and Roque Barreto neutralised Baganís first half strikes by Bhaichung Bhutia and George Ekeh, the Calcutta outfitís magical Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto scored the decider in the 66th minute to fetch Mohun Bagan full points.
With this win, the Calcutta giants now have four points from two matches while Churchill have one point from as many.
Bagan, who drew with Vasco, fielded a full-strength team bringing in Barreto and Bhutia to give more teeth to their attack.
Bagan sounded the first warning early in the second minute when Bhutia stretched Edward Ansah with a left-footer after the latter made a diving save.
The Goans, however, proved to be worthy opponents, especially in the second half when they held the upper hand. In one of their many attacks, Bagan custodian Amit Singh Roy managed to block a shot from Kasif Jamal off a Yusuf Yakubu pass.
Incidentally, Ekeh had a hand in all of Baganís goals.
After subjecting the Churchill citadel to sustained pressure, Bagan drew first blood in the 20th minute. Ekeh, who got the ball from an Osumanu Husseini deflection inside the box, bulldozed his way and shot the ball goalward between Ansahís legs. The ball deflected and went to Bhutia who pushed it into the net.
Five minutes later, Bagan increased the lead when Ekeh once again squeezed his way into the rival defence and took an angular shot that rebounded in off the post.
Undeterred by the setback, Churchill counter-attacked from the flanks and Tiken reduced the margin minutes before the interval.
After change of ends, the local outfit held sway and continued to probe for the equaliser, which they finally got in the 58th minute.
Husseini, who moved on top, passed to Roque from inside the box. Roque took his time and chipped the ball, which found the roof of the net.
The goal seemed to act as a tonic for Churchill. They mounted pressure on the Bagan defence but in their anxiety to score, left gaps in the defence, which were exploited by Bagan.
Capitalising on one such lapse, Ekeh gave a through pass to Jose Barreto who on the run beat íkeeper Ansah to find the far corner of the net.
Referee Suresh showed yellow cards to Churchillís Kasif Jamal, Yusuf Yakubu and Bagan substitute Sunil Chhetri.