Mahindra United made light of the controversial expulsion of their agitated coach, Derrick Pereira, before the start of the second session to record a heartwarming 3-1 come-from-behind victory over JCT in a 10th round I-League match at the Cooperage on Thursday.
The two sides had played out a goalless draw earlier in the first leg.
Ghanaian striker and man of the match Andrews Mensah Pomeyie struck a brace (10th and 65th minutes) while energetic midfielder Douhou Pierre (Ivory Coast) made the issue safe in the 87th minute after a solo run.
For the Phagwara side, temperamental sharpshooter Eduardo da Silva Escobar opened the account in the 7th minute, stabbing home a free ball after a Marcos Pereira corner kick.
Their third win takes the jeepmen up to fourth spot with 14 points, displacing Mohun Bagan who have the same points but an inferior goal difference, and keeps them in contention for a top three finish, their best bet now.
With the Punjab outfit crashing to their first reverse in the competition, their title chances have suffered a severe setback as they are now five points behind leaders Dempo (24), though still maintaining second position. But they hardly looked like a side that was in the hunt for the title on Thursday.
The spotlight was on the coaches for a change as referee Benjamin Silva asked Pereira to leave the ground after the normally level headed former Salgaocar defender let his emotions get the better of him in the first half due to his perceptions of unfair officiating.
When the half-time whistle was blown Pereira even walked on to the pitch to remonstrate with his Goan statemate.
His counterpart, Sukhwinder Singh, however maintained his composure throughout. But he boldly substituted Eduardo in the 69th minute, even though JCT were trailing, because the Brazilian, who scored his ninth goal, started losing his cool as the match progressed.
While the 'red devils' made the most of their chances, their defence appeared vulnerable against set pieces and they were lucky not to concede more goals as skipper Sandip Nandy had a good outing under the bar.
There was also a major blemish from international and stopper-back NP Pradeep who let Sunil Chhetri, chasing a long punt by Baljit Saini, past him. But the diminutive Delhi lad rolled the ball just wide of the far post in the 57th minute.
Mahindras sorely missed the injured Yusif Yakubu as reserve striker Sushil Kumar Singh looked out of sorts at the top level.
What will be remembered of this outing is the Mahindra goals which had a touch of class about them.
Mensah's first came after hoodwinking a defender in the box and a neat placement away from a diving Karanjit Singh. His second was more spectacular, an acrobatic header off a sizzling cross from the left-flank by substitute Bhola Prasad.
The icing on the cake came from Pierre who disposed Jaspal Singh in the latter's own territory, took a host of defenders in his stride and unleashed a swerving left-footer which beat Karanjit all ends up.
Mahindras next take on Churchill Brothers in Goa on Jan 14 while JCT lock horns with East Bengal at home
on the same day.