Defending champions East Bengal's hopes of retaining the National Football League crown suffered a major setback after they were beaten 0-1 by Mahindra United at the Cooperage, in Mumbai [ Images ], on Wednesday.
Abhishek Yadav's goal in the 75th minute gave the Mumbai champions full points from the 21st round match.
There was an elaborate opening ceremony with All India [ Images ] Football Federation President Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Secretary Albert Colaco greeting the two teams on the ground. The FIFA [ Images ] fairplay banner was also hoisted, and the national anthem was played to conclude the ceremony.
The Bengal unit dominated for most part of the first half as the mid-field combined well and forwards Alvito D'Cunah and Bijen Singh created scoring opportunities. Even with Bhaichung Bhutia relegated to the bench for the first half due to a stomach upset, East Bengal scored in ball possession but failed to grab the chances.
They foundered an easy chance in the first minute of the game itself, and as the contest hotted up, let Mahindra hold the whiphand.
"I think the team mobility was very good today," explained Mahindra coach Syed Nayeemuddin, "Along with the draw against East Bengal in Kolkata [ Images ] this was the best game we played in the league."
The hosts began second-half more aggressively, making quick passes, and were able to keep the ball in their half.
Mahindra captain Yadav, who has been selected in team of India's probables for the upcoming tour of Pakistan, finally got the breakthrough as he headed home the corner kick by Jatin Bisht.
In a fit of ecstasy Yadav brought down the corner flag and earned a yellow card from the referee.
East Bengal faded out after their playmaker D'Cunah pulled a hamstring 19 minutes into the second half. Bhutia was marked all the time, but the India captain was hardly the usually bustling self on the field.
Mahindra had another couple of chances in the final minutes. On the first, Steven Dias' failed to let go the ball quickly and hit it straight into the approaching goalkeeper and then substitute Hekmat Singh missed to place the ball in an open goal.
The victory took Mahindra's tally to 32 points and kept them in fourth place on the league table.
East Bengal, with 40 points from 20 matches, continue to occupy the third place, behind Sporting Clube de Goa [ Images ] and Dempo Sports Club, Goa, who have 42 and 41 points respectively.
Though rules debar them, the AIFF President and Maharashtra [ Images ] District Football Association secretary, Kehar Singh, watched the game from the wings. Singh also invited guests Bappi Lahiri [ Images ], the music composer, to sit with the teams on the field.