ATK Mohun Bagan, on Tuesday, beat struggling Bengaluru FC 2-0 to take themselves just a point adrift of leaders Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League table as the battle for the AFC Champions League slot opened up.
The winner of the ISL league phase -- with four rounds left to play -- will get an automatic qualification in the AFC Champions League next season.
In a first for ATK Mohun Bagan this season, two first-half goals signalled the downfall for a beleaguered Bengaluru FC, who were punished for their defensive mistakes.
Roy Krishna (37th) beat Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from the spot before Marcelinho (44th) put the game to rest with a freekick of the highest order.
The Mariners now stand second with 33 points from 16 games while Bengaluru FC remains sixth with 19 points, four points adrift of the top-four pack with one less game to play.
It was Bengaluru who looked more confident with the ball in the initial stages but ATKMB got things under control as they pressed aggressively, forcing BFC into mistakes.
They were fierce with their attacks and Marcelinho forced an early save from Sandhu.
While Bengaluru had more possession, ATKMB attacked better and had more shots on goal. Sandhu was constantly called upon. He came up with a fine save, getting a hand to Carl McHugh's fierce shot which should have been on the back of the net.
After a series of raids, ATKMB were awarded a penalty when Pratik Chaudhari brought down Krishna in the penalty box after the Fijian was set through on goal by Marcelinho. Krishna sent the keeper in the wrong direction to put his side ahead.
The Kolkata side went two goals ahead just before the break. Once again, BFC conceded from a set-piece. Harmanjot Khabra committed a foul on David Williams just outside the box and Marcelinho's freekick snuck past Sandhu, his second goal in three games.
BFC continued to dominate possession but lacked attempts on goal. ATKMB continued to find the right time to pounce on opportunities. Sandesh Jhingan tried a powerful strike which Sandhu once again kept out. The custodian prevented BFC from losing by a bigger margin.
Manvir Singh had a chance when he was set through on the right flank. But with options in the box, Manvir tried for glory only for Sandhu to make a fine save.
Bengaluru had to wait until the 87th minute for their first real chance. Sunil Chhetri managed to get past Jhingan and struck a low shot at goal but Arindam Bhattacharja dived to his right to deny the BFC skipper.
Clinical Chennai City beat NEROCA 2-1 to jump to top half of table
Former champions Chennai City FC dished out a clinical attacking brand of football to beat NEROCA FC 2-1 in an I-League match in Kolkata.
Strikes from Vineeth Kumar (6th) and Demir Avdic (68th) were enough to hand Chennai City the win despite Subash Singh reducing the deficit in the 79th minute.
With this win, Chennai City FC find themselves in the top half of the table while NEROCA are still on 10th place.
Chennai City wasted no time in showing their attacking intent but a fourth minute effort by Vladimir Molerovic from a distance went inches over the bar. However, the Chennai-based club had to wait just two minutes after Molerovic's attempt to take the lead.
Vineeth Kumar was found by an accurate cross from Mohamed Iqbal from the left flank on the far post. Vineeth's diving header from a tight angle beat the opposition custodian as Chennai took a 1-0 lead.
The goal, which came out of nowhere, jolted NEROCA and shortly after, attempts by Demir Avdic of Chennai City were kept out by Bishrojit Singh, who was tested on more than one occasion.
However, NEROCA regrouped and started pressing higher up the pitch. In the 15th minute, Subash Singh tried to dribble his way past the Chennai defence, but failed to release a powerful shot.
NEROCA survived a scare on the 18th minute when defender Manjit Sharma's loose pass for goalkeeper Bishrojit Singh was almost latched upon by a lurking Demir Avdic. If Avdic had stolen possession, it would have been a simple goal for Chennai City.
More chances came Chennai City's way to double their advantage. In the 28th minute, Rajesh's cross found Vineeth inside the box. This time, Vineeth tried to half-volley the cross, but his effort went wide.
With Chennai City FC having the lion's share of possession and creating chances at will, NEROCA relied on counter-attacks to test the opposition. Subash Singh wasted his shot in the 33rd minute and substitute Khaiminthang Lhungdim, shortly after, headed a Gobin Singh cross wide of the goal.
NEROCA began to attack in droves in the second half but the Gift Raikhan-coached side lacked creativity upfront, with Subash Singh mostly isolated and unable to link play with Judah Garcia.
They were dealt a blow in the 61st minute when Shoib Akhtar was sent off for a rash tackle on Jockson Dhas.
Playing with 10 men, NEROCA conceded another goal in the 68th minute when Demir Avdic found the net through a header from close range.
The Manipur-based club resorted to long balls and smashed them forward in an attempt to find a goal. The breakthrough came in the 79th minute for NEROCA.
Garcia's attempt from close range was heroically saved by the opposition goalkeeper, but the ball fell to Subash Singh, who smashed it home from a hand-shaking distance.
Despite a late surge by their opponents, Chennai City's defence held on to the lead to grab full three points.
Punjab FC survive late scare to beat Indian Arrows 2-1
Punjab FC moved up to the second spot in the I-League standings after beating Indian Arrows 2-1 at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium in Kalyani.
A brace from Papa Babacar Diawara (35th and 56th) ensured Punjab FC all three points despite a late goal by Vellington Fernandes (87th).
Indian Arrows made as many as six changes to the team after their loss to Real Kashmir FC. Head coach Shanmugan Venkatesh brought in Vibin Mohanan, Harsh Patre, Gurkirat Singh, Vellington Fernandes, Shreyas Ketkar, Ahaan Prakash and Gurpanthjeet Singh.
Punjab FC, on the other hand, made two changes from their 2-0 victory over TRAU. Curtis Fleming brought in Samad Ali Mallick in defence while handing Papa Diawara his debut.
The AIFF's developmental side put up an equal fight in the midfield in the opening exchanges and as a result were able to hold Punjab FC far away from their goal. Curtis Fleming's side came close to breaking the deadlock in the 16th minute.
Bikash Yumnum's long throw was turned on to his own crossbar by Tankadhar Bag. With the keeper Ahaan Prakash off his line, Chencho Gyeltshen attempted an overhead kick but Tankadhar made up for his earlier error with a brilliant goal-line clearance.
Indian Arrows had a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the 29th minute. Vibin released Patre, who could not send his shot past Punjab keeper Kiran Kumar Limbu.
A minute later, Punjab FC replied back with an opportunity of their own, but Aahaan Prakash was alert and reached a lobbed pass through the centre before Papa Diawara could.
After opportunities came for both sides, the opener came in the 35th-minute as Diawara brought down Aphaoba Singh's cross before smashing it past Ahaan Prakash in the Arrows goal.
Punjab FC kept looking for a second goal towards the end of the first half. Chencho's dipping strike was palmed away brilliantly by Ahaan in the 44th minute.
Curtis Fleming's side continued attacking the Arrows goal after the restart. Papa Diawara almost doubled the lead in the 48th minute, but his volley bounced just wide of Ahaan's far post.
The Senegalese striker almost turned provider in the 52nd minute, but his cross across the area for Chencho was intercepted by Ahaan.
Punjab FC kept on knocking the Arrows defence and reaped rewards in the 56th minute. Joseba Beitia found Diawara, who powered his header from close range and doubled his side's lead.
Few minutes before the final whistle, Vellington Fernandes reached substitute Abdul Hannan's cut-back cross, to pull a goal back.
Komron Tursunov's strike helps TRAU beat Aizawl FC
Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) scraped past Aizawl FC 1-0, riding on a fifth-minute strike from Komron Tursonov, followed by some valiant goalkeeping by Amrit Gope, in an I-League match in Kalyani.
Aizawl FC made two changes in their starting XI from their goalless draw against table-toppers Churchill Brothers. Head coach Yan Law started Ramhlunchhunga and David Laltlansanga.
TRAU, whose unbeaten run came to an end against Punjab FC, made three changes, bringing in Naresh Singh, goalkeeper Amrit Gope and Brazilian playmaker Bruno Rodrigues.
TRAU, who have a reputation of finding the net in early minutes of the game, opened scoring through Tursonov in the fifth minute. Phalguni Singh tipped a loose ball in the path of Tursunov, and the Tajik forward broke into the area before sending a thunderous strike into the left-hand corner.
Tursunov had a chance to double the lead in the 10th minute as he pounced on Laldinpuia's error. However, his left-footed volley was high of Lalmuansanga's goal.
Aizawl had a chance to pull one back in the 14th minute when Ramhlunchhunga met a long throw, but his header was wayward and off-target.
Aizawl held most of the ball in the opening half, while TRAU were comfortable counter-attacking.
Aizawl's persistence in attack paid off and they won a penalty kick after a clumsy tackle from Shahabaaz brought down Ramhlunchhunga in the 39th minute. However, MC Zuala's casual shot hit the post before being cleared by the TRAU defenders.
Moments later, Joseph Olaleye broke through the right wing with a scintillating solo run. His strike looked like heading into the top right corner of the net but was brilliantly saved by the Aizawl keeper Lalmuansanga.
Aizawl FC returned in the second half showing attacking intent and came close to finding the equaliser in the 49th minute.
Lalliansanga received the ball after some good build-up play in the midfield, but his shot from a tight angle was swept away by the young TRAU custodian.
Gope was again called into action in the 57th minute to deny Lalliansanga from a very narrow angle. Aizawl kept the pressure on for the next 10 minutes, but could not test the keeper.
Aizawl kept pushing for the equaliser late in regulation time and Lalliansanga's deflected shot was well saved again by Gope in injury time.
The best save of the lot came in the last minute of added time, as Gope tipped Malsawmtluanga's curler over the bar to give TRAU all the three points.