It was Mohun Bagan who had the advantage in the I-League title race when they took to the field against Aizawl FC at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in the capital of Mizoram. But ninety minutes later, the Mariners had surrendered their advantage to Khalid Jamil's boys, who became the toast of the Indian footballing fraternity who sensed a sensational story, being scripted for a while now, reaching a positive conclusion.
Ironically, the damage on the day was to be inflicted on The Mariners by Zohmingliana Ralte, a former Mohun Bagan youth player who had left the Kolkata club in 2005-06 during his formative years after developing homesickness.
Following the win on Saturday, Aizawl only need to match Mohun Bagan's result on the final matchday when they take on their North-Eastern rivals Shillong Lajong in Meghalaya. However, the hard yard has been walked, but the fact was they were allowed to do so by a tentative Mohun Bagan who did not look up for the game at times, especially in the second half.
The roaring home crowd, who deserve a mention for the way in which they braved the rain and fog to give their team a lift, could well have unnerved Mohun Bagan. If they did so, it would reflect poorly on Sanjoy Sen and his team for they are experienced campaigners with seasoned internationals who should be accustomed to such adverse conditions.
In spite of how the game turned out, it could all have been different had Darryl Duffy took a glorious chance created by Sony Norde in the third minute. Instead, the Scotsman who had bagged a brace last time Bagan played Aizawl, saw a tame shot saved by Albino Gomes from a one-on-one situation. Perhaps Duffy was still struggling from an injury he had picked up in the build up to the game but that was exactly the sort of wake-up call Aizawl FC needed who never allowed the dangerous Sony Norde space and time on the ball for the rest of the game.
Sony Norde is Bagan's outlet during counters and especially during away games, as he had shown away at Chennai City and Minerva Punjab. Both the goals were winners back then but in Mizoram, Ashutosh Mehta and Laldanmawia buckled up and ensured Norde was effectively marked out of the game.
After a first half blighted by dense fog and poor visibility, Aizawl's midfield maestro Mahmoud Al Amna came into his own alongside Alfred Jaryan, and sparked at least a couple of chances that should have been converted as Bagan looked to hold on to a draw that would have seen them maintain their advantage going into the final matchday. Perhaps that was a mistake from the Mariners who were undone by a late goal which was richly deserved for the Reds.
Yusa Katsumi toiled hard for Bagan without rewards as Duffy and Jeje Lalpekhlua, replaced later on by Balwant Singh, were dominated by Zohmingliana Ralte and Eze Kingsley. Only Prabir Das' introduction for Azharuddin Mallick livened up a slack second half from Mohun Bagan as the versatile winger conjured up several dangerous deliveries only to see Ralte and co. deal with it effectively.
While Al Amna was all over the midfield and all over the struggling Sehnaj Singh, Alfred Jaryan was excelling in breaking up play. The Syrian's movement and trickery posed quite a few problems for Bagan and it was only deserving that he delivered the corner which was eventually headed in by Ralte.
In the end, Mohun Bagan sorely missed the services of Pranoy Halder in midfield as they conceded the midfield battle to Aizawl. Moreover, it was once again proved that Bagan's bite in attack can be negated if Sony Norde is kept quite.
As billowing plumes of red smoke popped from the stands in Aizawl, overshadowing the low-hanging clouds and fog which had threatened to take the sting out of a crucial game, it was the home team who rejoiced at having taken a hard but crucial step towards crowning an underdog story which will draw parallels from a recent victory of a familiar European side.
There was also a sense of deja vu to Mohun Bagan's loss in that they had secured the league title in 2014/15 season in similar circumstances against Bengaluru FC. In the last game of the season, Bello Rasaq popped up with a late header from a corner from Sony Norde amidst falling rain, just like it was on Saturday afternoon in Aizawl. But instead of a Green and Maroon shirt, it was a red shirt who scored the all-important goal.