| S. Sunil, who scored HALís winner against Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Allís not well if it doesnít end well. This turned out to be the case with Mohun Bagan on the concluding day of the seventh National Football League (NFL) Monday.
The defending champions ended a dismal season with a 0-1 loss against the already relegated Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to settle for seventh spot (33 points).
The victory at Salt Lake Stadium helped HAL avoid the ignominy of finishing last as they ended with 11 points from 22 matches ó three more than ITI, who were also demoted.
It was Mohun Baganís worst performance in six appearances in the countryís premier tournament. They didnít make the cut in the inaugural year and finished fourth in 1998-99. It also means they will not figure in the money list for the first time since only the top six teams receive prize-money.
It was evident from the body language of the hosts that there was little to play for. Things were not helped by George Ekehís last-minute withdrawal with a suspected muscle strain.
Mohun Bagan still forced a few chances, all of which were spurned with Sunil Chhetri being guilty on most occasions. Sheikh Sanjib and Amar Ganguly were also found wanting, while Rennedy Singh hit the bar with a right-footed free-kick.
S. Sunil did the job for HAL in the 69th minute when he was allowed a free header from the near post following a corner from the right by Xavier Vijaykumar. HAL had scored just 16 goals in their 21 previous outings.
HAL, in fact, came to town with a dubious record of conceding 54 goals before Mondayís match, but Mohun Bagan were just too dispirited and never looked like ending the season on a high. Chhetri and Sanjib showed an urge to make things happen, but couldnít control their nerves at the goalmouth. Also, they were caught off-side on numerous occasions.
After being cautious in the first half, HAL opened up after the breather and the lack of will in the Mohun Bagan ranks inspired them to go for the unexpected. After tasting success, they came close a few more times and things would have turned seriously embarrassing for the three-time champions had HAL been able to convert a couple of easy chances.
Mohun Bagan pressed hard in a ten-minute spell after conceding the goal, but Dulal Biswasí powerful right-footer off a free-kick was kept out by a diving goalkeeper, while Ganguly failed to convert from close with the goalkeeper at his mercy.
HAL: Mark Mascarenhas; Mehraj Din Wadoo, Parmeswaran, Oniya Obinna Winner, Gift Rayken; Rajendra Prasad, Gregory Clarke, Xavier Vijaykumar, S. Sunil; Isfaq Ahmed, Prahlad Rawat (K. Abhijeet, 62).
Mohun Bagan: Amit Singha Roy; Dulal Biswas, Satish Bharti, Yakubu, Lolendra Singh; Basudeb Mondal, Palash Karmakar, Jayanta Sen, Rennedy Singh (Gaurab Dutta, 73); Sunil Chhetri, Sheikh Sanjib (Amar Ganguly, 52).
Referee: T. Pradeep Kumar (Tamil Nadu).