Goals by foreign recruits Eugene Gray and Awal Ibrahim gave Mohammedan Sporting a 2-1 win over Mumbai's Air India in the Second Division National Football League finals in Delhi on Thursday.
After a barren first-half at the Ambedkar stadium, Gray struck in the 55th minute to put Sporting ahead and five minutes later Ibrahim stretched the lead to 2-0, following a superb move down the right flank by substitute L Akbar Singh.
Air India pulled one back in the 66th minute through Anthony Fernandes but the Kolkata side hung on to the advantage in the remaining period to gather the three points and take a big step towards making it to next year's National Football League.
The team wearing the famous black and white jersey were clearly the superior side on the day and their key players -- Gray, Dipendu Biswas and Ibrahim -- looked in good touch.
After a keenly fought first-half, which saw Sporting going close to scoring at least twice, the match came alive with Akbar Singh coming in place of Khemthang Paite after the break.
The wiry player, operating from the midfield, suddenly added more punch to the Sporting forays with his speed and repeatedly opened up the Air India defence, moving in through the right.
The first goal came from a corner kick, curled in by Akbar Singh. Gray found the net, taking the shot on the turn, with a powerful right-footer from just inside the box even as the Air India defenders rushed to clear the ball.
Air India quickly effected a double substitution, bringing in veteran Godfrey Pereira and Syed Ahmed in place of Suprith Jathanna and Mohd Rizwan. But it was of little help as their goal again fell and once again the architect of the goal was Akbar Singh.
Dashing in through the right, the bubbling medio stitched a superb move with Nabi and the duo went deep inside the rival area towards the corner post. Akbar then found Ibrahim, perfectly placed inside the box, and the striker made it 2-0, side-stepping Khambiton Singh in the process.
Air India's efforts to come back into the game were also helped by Sporting letting down their guard. Following a forcing move through the middle, the Mumbai team earned a free-kick. After two players played the dummy to perfection, Syed Ahmed provided the cross for Fernandes to complete the finishing touches.
Air India then desperately tried to grab the equaliser and at the other end Sporting went close to sealing the issue following quick counter attacks.
The Mumbai team sent in Uday Konar in the last 15 minutes and twice he came close to scoring the equaliser.
Tomorrow is a rest day and on Saturday Air India will take on SBT.