Century plus old Mohammedan Sporting Club on Saturday clinched their maiden I-League title after they beat Shillong Lajong FC 2-1 in their penultimate match, a result which also promoted them to the top-tier Indian Super League. Alexis Gomes put Mohammedan Sporting in the front in the first minute of the game itself before the home side’s Douglas Tardin restored parity in the 15th minute. Evgeni Kozlov scored the decisive goal for Mohammedan Sporting in the 62nd minute.

With the win, Mohammedan Sporting have secured 52 points from 23 matches with one game left to play. They are eight points ahead of second-placed Sreenidi Deccan (44 points from 22 matches). Sreenidi Deccan cannot catch Mohammedan Sporting even if they win both their remaining matches.

The Kolkata side’s road to the I-League title was made easier after NEROCA FC held Sreenidi Deccan FC to a 1-1 draw here on Thursday.

If Mohammedan Sporting are found to fulfil the Indian Club Licensing Premier 1 criteria, three Kolkata teams will play in the ISL, the country’s top-tier league, next season. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the other two teams from Kolkata.

Exuding confidence about meeting all the required criteria to play the ISL, president of the club Amiruddin Bobby said they are gearing to join the top tier league next season.

This also completes a golden treble for the Big Three of the Maidan as the season as the season witnessed East Bengal winning the Super Cup, followed by Mohun Bagan’s Durand Cup triumph. They are also in the running for the ISL Shield and title.

“First of all, we thank the supporters, our Russian coach (Andrey Chernyshov) and officials for believing in this team, This has been a historic journey for us, we also thank our Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) for all the support. We will meet all the criteria to play in the ISL next season,” Bobby told PTI.

Mohammedan Sporting veteran Dipendu Biswas, who is now the football secretary at the club, is ecstatic and dedicated it to their supporters.

“This win is for our supporters. We have the biggest supporters in the Maidan still we were not able to play the top tier league. So this triumph is for them,” said Biswas, who had won a hattrick of Kolkata league titles for the team.

Mohammedan Sporting, the third Kolkata giant, which had finished runners-up in 2021-22 I-League season, have come into Saturday’s match after a 1-1 draw with Inter Kashi. They have been for unbeaten for the last 10 matches before Saturday.

Alexis scored in the very first minute for the ultimate champions, as Douglas Rosa Tardin equalised in the 15th minute for the home team. Evgeni Kozlov scored the winner for Mohammedan in the second half, to secure the title.

The equation was simple. Mohammedan Sporting needed one point to secure their maiden I-League title. But it was never going to be a walk in the park.

Shillong Lajong have had their moments this season, but are firmly rooted as a mid-table side at seventh in the I-League table with 31 points from 23 games. But their added motivation to play spoilsport against the top dogs was on ample display.

Mohammedan Sporting, for their part, did the bit that would have calmed their nerves, at least in the opening exchanges. Their Argentine forward Alexis Gomez produced a moment of magic in the first minute itself, when he spotted Lajong keeper Neitho Chalieu off his line, and chopped it goalwards from just inside the halfway mark, as the ball sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and nestled into the net.

The job seemed half done, but a lot could happen over 90 minutes, and from what ensued over the course of the rest of the first half, it was amply clear that one goal would not be enough for the Black and White Brigade.

It took Shillong just a quarter of an hour to get back into the game, a Douglas Tardin penalty making it 1-1. It would still be enough for Mohammedan.

However, their back four had their work cut out in the first half when Lajong piled the pressure on the table toppers. Tardin and Phrangki Buam, a former Mohammedan Sporting player himself, hit the woodwork.

In another blow for Mohammedan Sporting, their goalscorer Gomez hobbled off injured, only to be replaced by Kozlov.

Lajong right back Ronney Wilson Kharbudon had the perfect opportunity to put his side in the lead, when Tardin played a ball across the face of the goal, and the former only had to tap it into an empty net. The Mohammedan camp heaved a sigh of relief when he side-footed it inches wide.

Padam Chettri, Mohammedan Sporting’s goalkeeper, who has had a stellar season, pulled off a brilliant save to maintain parity just before the half-time break, as he palmed away a shot by Marcos Rudwere from point-blank range.

The home side started with the same tempo in the second half, but the table toppers managed the situation well. They stayed back and waited for the opportunity that soon presented itself.

Kozlov, who had come on as a first-half substitute, latched on to a clearance and found himself inside the box with just the keeper to beat, which he subsequently did. Finally, some breathing space for the Black and White Brigade.

Making it a collective effort by the team, the Mohammedan Sporting defenders put in an absolute shift in injury time. Joseph Adjei showed some brilliant anticipation to position himself beside keeper Chettri as Lajong’s Kynsaibor Lhud pulled the trigger. Adjei simply booted the effort away, to secure Mohammedan’s 15th win of the season.

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