One moment of magic from the irrepressible Baichung Bhutia opened the floodgates and helped Mohun Bagan record a resounding 3-0 win over a dogged Mumbai FC in a 12th round I-League match at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Friday.
The talismanic India skipper, who was tightly marked till then, took advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration by the Mumbai FC defence and lunged full length to meet a cross from the right by James Singh, beating Amit Singha Roy with a low volley to open the account in the 73rd minute.
It was a classic strike to rival the many such goals that the Sikkimese striker has scored in his long and fruitful career.
His long-time partner in poaching, Jose Ramirez Barreto, then increased the tally in the 82nd minute with a searing run from the right flank after being put through beautifully by Marcos Pereira, getting the better of Amit Singha Roy with a deft placement in a one-to-one situation.
Substitute P C Lalawmpuia (for Bhutia) then drove the final nail in the Mumbai FC coffin with a strike in the 90th minute to give Karim Bencherifa's side their seventh triumph on the trot in the tournament.
This win leapfrogs Mohun Bagan to 24 points, just one behind leaders Sporting Clube de Goa, and keeps them in serious hunt for the prestigious pennant.
David Booth's team's third defeat means they remain in fourth place with 19 points.
It was sweet revenge for the recent Federation Cup champions, who were shocked 1-2 by Mumbai FC in their opening round match on their home turf. It was also a tactical victory of sorts for the Moroccan coach as his wards kept pegging away at the rival citadel till it was finally brought down due to the class and opportunism of the Bhutia-Barreto combine.
Defensively, too, the visitors were sound, with stopper back Peter Odafe being as solid as a rock while neutralizing the triple threat of Mumbai's tall and rugged strikers -- Felix Aboagye, Abel Hammond and Abhishek Yadav -- who hardly got a peek at the rival goal all through.
In truth, the locals lacked the quality to prise open the Mohun Bagan defence. They did well to be on level terms against a superior opposition till the closing stages. The final margin of defeat was indeed not an adequate testimony to Mumbai FC's commitment and combativeness.
Bencherifa will now be chasing a personal record of eight wins when his side meets Air-India here on February 1 in the 13th round encounter. He today equaled his feat of seven consecutive victories which he had earlier achieved with a Maltese club in 2001.