A 10-man Mohun Bagan banked on Balwant Singh’s lone goal to beat a fighting Churchill Brothers 1-0 and start its I-League campaign on a winning note at the Vidyasagar Stadium here on Sunday.
Even though Bagan managed to grab full points in front of its fans, it needed to raise its game ahead of bigger challenges.
Balwant, who made a comeback after a nine-month lay-off due to an injury, justified his selection ahead of Jeje Lalpekhlua by providing the breakthrough in the 28th minute.
Pritam Kotal went up on the right flank to send in a precise aerial ball to Balwant at the far post and the latter headed it in brilliantly to infuse life into the match, which so far had witnessed Bagan’s vain efforts on its flanks and Chruchill’s defensive job.
The goal woke up the Churchill players as Surchandra Singh and the ever active Kingslee Fernanades combining well to get past the Bagan midfield and pose a threat, which was averted in time by a swift Anas Edathodika.
The Bagan forwards were very close to inflate the lead five minutes later. The busy Katsumi Yusa headed a clean one and Daryl Duffy’s right-footed half-volley found Chuchill goalkeeper Priyant Singh.
Chuchill looked for opportunities and Brandon Fernandes shot from about 30 yards only to see the ball sail over the Bagan bar towards the close of the first half.
Led by captain courageous Keenan Almeida, who played with a bandaged head after picking up an injury, Churchill held the ball with purpose to frustrate Bagan.
Bagan stepped up pace but could not capitalise on the chances. Duffy, who needed to beat just Priyant, passed it on to Yusa and saw the effort go waste, while Souvik, who fed Yusa and got it back on the goalmouth, watched his sliding touch go out.
Once Subhasish Bose was red-carded in the 64th minute after earning two yellows within a gap of nine minutes, Bagan made substitutions to bolster its defence allowing Churchill to put pressure.
The host heaved a sigh of relief on protecting its slender lead.
The result: Mohun Bagan 1 (Balwant Singh 28) bt Churchill Brothers 0.