Peerless Jose Ramirez Barreto yet again showed why he is the kingpin of Indian football as he single-handedly helped Mohun Bagan notch a hard-fought 2-1 win over plucky Air-India in a 13th round I-League match at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Sunday.
The two sides had tied their first leg match 1-1.
The season's largest attendance saw the Brazilian man of the match unlock his bagful of magic tricks and his unparalleled shooting skills as he scored two magnificent goals in the 45th and 69th minutes to negate the lead that Subhas Singh had given the airmen in the 20th minute.
Karim Bencherifa's maroon & green outfit, who recorded their eighth win on the trot, a personal record for the Moroccan, now zoom up to 27 points and remain in hot pursuit of Sporting Clube de Goa, who top the table with one more. The local side remain in sixth place with 17 points after their fourth loss.
Bimal Ghosh's gallant squad did not deserve to lose. They threw everything at the three-time champions and were unlucky that substitute Emmanuel Ovieghara struck the upright in the 80th minute as they pounded the Kolkata citadel for the equaliser.
However, Mohun Bagan, who also had their moments in the sun, held their composure and with stopper back Peter Odafe remaining as steady as a rock, the winners were able to ride out the barrage and escape to victory.
With skipper Baichung Bhutia out of sorts -- he played with a strapped right thigh -- and the wide men remaining withdrawn to negate Air-India's offensive intentions, it was Barreto who had to take the battle almost single-handedly to the opposition.
Air-India went into the lead through a pretty move, industrious medio Gouranga Biswas chesting down a lob from the right into the box to Kailash Patil who relayed it to Subhas and the Manipuri crashed it past Sangram Mukherjee in a flash.
The reverse was a wake-up call for the mariners. Brazilian pivot Marcos Pereira began taking on more of the workload and also threatening the rival goal with a free-kick and a thunderous volley that Arup Debnath fisted over for a corner in the 36th minute. The pressure ultimately paid off and Barreto finally found the target with a fierce header from his side's third flag kick taken by N S Manju.
Barreto then produced another classic finish for the matchwinner, his seventh goal in the tournament, after Ishfaq Ahmed made a searing run from the centre-line and laid the ball on a platter. The Brazilian then veered to the right and unleashed a sizzling grounder from a narrow angle which crashed into the far corner leaving Debnath stupefied.
Air-India suffered another set-back in added on time when their thrown in specialist Uttam Singh was sent off by referee O P Thakur from Jharkhand after he fouled James Singh a second time. He will miss his side's away match against East Bengal as a consequence.