Mahindra United may not be gunning for the I-League title but they have usurped the right to play arbiters as to where the prestigious pennant should go.
For the second time this season, the 'red devils' enacted the role of party spoilers to perfection by gunning down high flying Dempo Sports Club by a 3-1 margin in the 12th round at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Saturday.
The jeepmen had earlier pegged back title aspirants JCT by the same margin at the same venue in the 10th round.
With their fourth win, Mahindras move up to 17 points and share fourth spot with Mohun Bagan (same points and same goal difference) although they are 10 behind the defending champions who remain stuck on 27 after crashing to their first defeat. Today's denouement however infuses life back into the championship race with JCT and Churchill Brothers now sniping closely at Dempo's heels.
The local outfit, who were deserving victors on the day, unveiled one of their best shows this season, getting their goals through medio Sukhwinder Singh (19 th minute), striker Andrews Mensah Pomeyie (32nd minute) and playmaker and man-of-the-match Douhou Pierre (56th minute).
Mensah's strike was a classic, an acrobatic in the air volley while meeting a cross from the right wing by Sushant Mathew. The Ghanaian could have netted a brace but he headed wide a superb Stephen Dias cross in the 24 th minute with the entire goal at his mercy.
Mensah however made amends by threading a lovely through ball for Pierre, who beat a tentative Abhijit Mondal with a curling shot in the second session.
Dempo were woeful on Saturday and coach Armando Colaco admitted that this wastheir worst showing in the ongoing competition. The visitors were lucky to get a consolation goal through a Ranty Martins header in the 90 th minute.
They were incidentally held to a 1-1tie by the Mumbai squad in the first leg.
"Itold the boys not to be complacent, but they were, and we rightly got punished today. But they have played great football for 11 rounds and we must learn from this defeat never to take anything for granted," a chastened Colaco acknowledged after the match.
Perhaps,the Goan listlessness was due to the fact that their playmaker, Beto, recovering from a viral infection, had an off day. As a result, Dempo's throbbing midfield was generally in sleeping mode; their Nigerian duo upfront too were off colour.
Theirnormally reliable defense too was prone to the occasional error and they ultimately paid the price with Mahindras capitalizing on their mistakes.
Onthe other hand, Mahindra orchestrated some lovely attacks with Pierre and international Dias lending sparkle to the intermediate line. For a change; the jeepmen's defence, in which debutante Sunil Kumar had a fine outing in the crucial stopper back position, held firm, while Sandeep Nandy was his usual efficient self under the bar.
The only sour notes in the 'Scorpio' symphony were when international K Ajayan crashed into the substitute bench andpulled his hamstring midway in the second session; substitutes Mohammed Rafi and Manas Das too were booked for fouls by referee Rizwan Ul Haq.
Mahindras now take on Viva Kerala away in the 13th round on Jan 24 while the Goan miners travel to Kolkata for a match up against East Bengal on January 27.