Fran Gonzalez struck twice to help former champions Mohun Bagan halt Gokulam Kerala’s winning run with a 2-1 victory in their I-League fixture at Kalyani on Monday.
This was Mohun Bagan’s first win over the Malabarians in six attempts and the win could not have come at a more appropriate time as it took them one point shy of leaders East Bengal ahead of Sunday’s derby clash.
This was Gokulam Kerala’s first defeat of the season as they dropped to the fifth spot.
Gonzalez converted a penalty in the 24th minute to put the hosts in front before Marcus Joseph produced the equaliser from the 12-yard-penalty spot to bring the match on an even keel.
After the breather, Gonzalez restored the lead with a towering header in the 48th minute, which turned out to be the eventual winner.
Gokulam Kerala had their opportunities with six shots on target as compared to four from Mohun Bagan but the hosts made their chances count to secure full points in front of a packed 14,370-strong crowd here.
Gokulam Kerala showed great character, constantly running down and stringing moves together and not allowing a moments’ reprise to the Bagan backline.
In the 24th minute, Gokulam keeper Ubaid CK brought down Ashutosh Mehra inside the box and referee Crystal John pointed to the spot to award a penalty to Mohun Bagan.
Gonzalez stepped up and made no mistake in converting the spot-kick to give his side an early lead.
The intensity of the match seemingly appeared to boil over on the pitch, when Ashutosh Mehra was involved in a tussle with Mohamed Irshad. Both players were rightfully booked for dissent.
Mohun Bagan seemed to be heading into halftime with their noses in front, but the southerners had other ideas.
In the third minute of first-half stoppage time, Julen Colinas brought down Nathaniel Garcia inside the box, which prompted the referee to point to the spot again, awarding a penalty to the visitors this time.
Marcus stepped up and converted with fine aplomb to draw parity as both the teams headed into the break.
The second half resumed with Mohun Bagan coming out all guns blazing. The hosts kept piling the pressure in the Gokulam final third.
In the 48th minute, Gonzalez soared the highest to head home a corner and net his second goal of the game, which restored Bagan’s lead.
In the 65th minute, Henry Kisekka, who had a quiet game until now, delivered a low cross down the right flank, which was tipped clear by Bagan keeper Sankar Roy, but the ricochet fell to Mohammed Salah failed to keep his composure and fired wide.
In the 88th minute, a Haroon Amiri attempt on goal was spilt by Sankar Roy, with Kisekka picking up the pieces and tapping the ball into an empty net. However, the goal was disallowed by the referee for an apparent foul on the goalkeeper.
With four minutes added on, Marcus had another crack on goal in the first minute of stoppage time but his thunderbolt of an attempt was tipped over and onto the crossbar by Sankar Roy, as Bagan held on for the three points.
The victory for Mohun Bagan, however, ended on a sour note when skipper Gurjinder Kumar was given marching orders in the final minute of stoppage time, rendering him unavailable for their all-important next game.
Sankar Roy, for his late heroics, was adjudged Hero of the Match.