An 89th-minute strike by Eugeneson Lyngdoh on his return took FC Pune City to only their third win of the ISL season as they beat Mumbai City FC 1-0 on Thursday. Mumbai themselves had Lyngdoh's Bengaluru FC teammate Sunil Chhetri make his first start.
While the teams went into the season's second Maharashtra derby seeking a result for their own reasons - Mumbai looking to reclaim their position on top of the table, while Pune wanting to keep their playoff hopes alive by avenging their 1-0 defeat at home - fans seemed more excited about the return of Chhetri.
Chhetri and fellow Mumbai forward Diego Forlan clicked soon enough despite it being their first game together. Forlan dropped in behind Chhetri and they looked like they had been playing together all season.
Just after the 10th minute at the Mumbai Football Arena, Chhetri let Forlan through on the flanks with a perfectly weighted lobbed pass, and Forlan put in a teasing ball into the box. Midfielder Matias Defederico attacked, but ran into a wall in the shape of Pune goalkeeper Edel Bete. With Bete on the ground, the ball fell kindly for Mumbai's Sehnaj Singh, whose wayward shot only threatened the advertising boards.
While Mumbai -- effectively playing 4-4-1-1 -- were creating chances but failing to convert, Pune's formation resembled a paper-napkin drawing, with five at the back and Dramane Traore often ploughing a lone furrow up front.
Just after the 15-minute mark, Pune's Anibal Zurdo put in a decent ball, but Traore timed his run all wrong, with the ball looping over him. A midfielder making a late run into the box could have capitalised on the loose ball, but none did. Their 5-3-2 formation meant too many were committed in defence, leaving little time for the likes of Mohamed Sissoko and Lenny Rodrigues to get forward.
The best chance of a dull first half fell to Defederico, when the Argentine made a great run from the right wing and was played into space by Forlan, but Bete again came to the rescue, parrying his left-footed shot.
Traore was hauled off at half-time by Pune coach Antonio Lopez Habas and was replaced by Lyngdoh as Pune appeared content to sit back and soak up the pressure.
For all of their dominance in possession and 12 total shots, Mumbai failed to convert. They came closest in the 75th minute. Vadocz won a free-kick just outside the box and Forlan's curled effort was turned onto the crossbar by Bete. Ten minutes later, Forlan had his best chance of the game. He was played in by substitute Cafu, and one-on-one with Bete, the former Manchester United and Atletico Madrid forward kept his shot on target but could not beat Bete.
In the 89th, Narayan Das put in a dangerous cross from the left wing, which Mumbai 'keeper Albino Gomes failed to hold on to. Lyngdoh, quiet since coming on, found himself in space with the ball bouncing towards him. The midfielder's shot hit the ground and bounced over the defence into goal -- his third overall in the ISL.
The much-needed win takes Pune up to fourth in the table on goal difference. And while Mumbai will be kicking themselves for missing the opportunity to regain top spot, they have reason to hope the Chhetri-Forlan partnership will pay off in the games to come.