Kolkata: Mohun Bagan blanked former champions Dempo 2-0, overcoming a stiff second half challenge to go one point clear of Bengaluru FC atop the standings in the I-League football tournament, here on Sunday.
Dhanachandra Singh fired his side to lead from a Katsumi Yusa corner kick in the 27th minute and Balwant Singh headed home the second in the 85th minute from a Yusa freekick at the Viveakananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan.
Moments after conceding the second, both teams were reduced to 10 players as Dempo's star forward Carlos Hernandez and Mohun Bagan's midfielder Shehnaz Singh were sent off following an unsavoury scuffle.
The former Costa Rican World Cupper shoved and chested Singh after the Dempo marquee recruit was slided down from behind by the Mohun Bagan mid-fielder. But before the stadium broke into a battlefield the match officials and pacified both the parties and sent off the duo.
Mohun Bagan (18 points) held on to the 2-0 lead and jumped past overnight leader Bengaluru FC (17) to go on top with two matches in hand against the defending champions. Having dished out a disjointed first half, the Goan heavyweights under new coach Trevor Morgan were quick to regroup as they looked promising after the changeover and pressed hard while Mohun Bagan played a catching up game.
Much of the credit goes to the young Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Debjit Majumder who thwarted all Bengaluru raids to be adjudged man of the match. "We badly wanted to win. All of us gave 100 percent and the three points will give us confidence in due course. I just followed my coach's advice," Majumder said as they shift their focus on the high profile derby against East Bengal on March 28.
After eight matches, Mohun Bagan also remain the only unbeaten team in the 11-team standings and coach Sanjoy Sen said, "I'm really proud of the boys. It was getting very difficult to keep the rhythm after the break but the boys showed great character."
Playing with more determination, Dempo had the best chance to equalise in the 52nd minute but Francis Fernandes made a mess of a good set piece near the goalmouth as a neat work by Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Majumder averted any mishap for the home side.
Hernandez also had a fine opportunity in the 54th minute after being set up by Alwyn George but the Costa Rican smacked the ball over the bar.