Mumbai City FC opened their 2023 Durand Cup campaign in fine fashion with a 3-1 win against Mohammedan SC. First half goals from Rostyn Griffiths, Jorge Pereyra Díaz and Lallianzuala Chhangte meant Des Buckingham’s side got off to a flying start in Group B.

Starting XI: Phurba Lachenpa, Rahul Bheke (c), Rostyn Griffiths, Mehtab Singh, Akash Mishra, Apuia, Alberto Noguera, Greg Stewart, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Jorge Pereyra Díaz.

The Islanders set the tone for the evening as early as in the 2nd minute and were on the offensive through Greg Stewart. The Scotsman ran through the Mohammedan midfield and took a shot from distance which was parried away by Jongte. Stewart floated in the resulting corner towards Pereyra Díaz but his attempt was off targetThe early minutes were all Mumbai City. Alberto Noguera’s mastery in midfield was causing problems for Mohammedan as he found Pereyra Díaz in the box. The Argentine laid it off for Bipin Singh running in from the left who fired his shot inches wide into the side netting.

As he does so often, Rostyn Griffiths spotted the run of Bipin Singh down the left in the 12th minute. and found him with a stunning pass but Bipin’s attempted cross was turned away for a corner. Greg Stewart floated in a delightful ball for a towering Griffiths whose thumping header crashed into the underside of the crossbar and over the line to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.

The onslaught continued as Des Buckingham’s side continued to remain on the front foot. A floating pass played in deep into the Mohammedan box found Rahul Bheke who expertly headed it across the face of the goal. Pereyra Díaz came in flying with a diving header but it was cleared off the line by Adjei.

Mumbai City continued to press the pedal in the 23rd minute as Noguera intercepted a mispass from a Mohammedan defender inside their box. His left footed shot was palmed by Jongte straight into the feet of Jorge Pereyra Díaz for a simple tap in on his birthday to make it 2-0.

Arguably the most in-form player in India over the last 12 months, Chhangte was electric down the right from the get go. The Mizo winger fired in a sizzling cross in for an onrushing Bipin Singh whose header unfortunately flew straight in the hands of Jongte in the Mohammedan goal.

Alberto Noguera continued to pull the strings in midfield for the Islanders. In the 35th minute, the Spaniard picked out a beautiful pass down the left wing for Bipin, splitting the Mohammedan defence wide open like a hot knife through butter. Bipin fired in his cross across the box for Chhangte who slid in to slot the ball into the back of the net. 3-0.

Last season’s Golden Ball winner Greg Stewart got into the action as he dinked a looping pass over the defence for Pereyra Díaz. A lovely exchange of passes ensued as JPD laid it back to Greg who spotted Chhangte’s run inside the box. Chhangte squared it to Bipin but the Manipuri winger was crowded out by no less than 3 Mohammedan shirts.

A rare lapse in concentration in the Islanders’ defence allowed Mohammedan SC to pull one back. A quick short corner in the 42nd minute was followed by a cross into the box for David Lalhlansanga to nod in, catching the defenders off guard to make it 3-1.

As half time approached, the Islanders maintained the pressure and forced a mistake in the Mohammedan defence allowing Pereyra Díaz to go through on goal. The striker attempted to find Chhangte across the goal but his cross was cleared just under the crossbar. The referee soon blew as the Islanders headed into the break with a two-goal cushion.

The second half started with a more cautious approach for both sides as the Islanders controlled most of the possession. Rostyn Griffiths, adept as ever on the ball, found Greg Stewart in midfield in the 51st minute. Stewart let on Noguera with a beautiful back heel flick for the Spaniard to play Pereyra Díaz through on goal. JPD’s first touch, however, let him down as Jongte comfortably collected the ball.

Des Buckingham rang in the first pair of changes for the evening in the 61st minute as Jorge Pereyra Díaz and Lallianzuala Chhangte made way for Vikram Partap Singh and a debut for Yoëll van Nieff.

Vikram got straight into the action just a few minutes after coming on. The young forward found Bipin running in at the far post but Bipin’s shot somehow missed the entire frame of the goal only to smash against the crossbar and stay out.

The debutant Yoëll van Nieff, who slotted straight into the midfield after coming on, exchanged a quick 1-2 with Bipin Singh in the 72nd minute. Bipin played a delighful lob over the defence for Apuia who was through on goal. The young midfielder chested it down but his first touch was a bit too strong, making it easy pickings for Jongte.

Bipin Singh soon made way for young 20-year old Gurkirat Singh, who donned his new squad number 11.

As he had been all evening, Alberto Noguera continued to weave pass after pass in midfield. In the 83rd minute, Noguera found Stewart inside the box, who did brilliantly to keep Noguera’s pass under control, but his cross to find an incoming Vikram was intercepted. This would be Stewart’s final act of the evening as he was soon replaced by another young forward Ayush Chhikara.

Finding himself now on set piece duties, van Nieff delivered in an accurate corner in the 86th minute and found a relatively undisturbed Rahul Bheke. Bheke connected with a powerful header but it was narrowly off target.

The clock was running down as the referee indicated 4 minutes of added time after the 90 minutes. Vikram, who put in a tireless cameo, chased the ball down in midfield, winning it off a Mohammedan player. Vikram played it to Noguera who let Gurkirat through on goal but his powerful low shot was blocked by Jongte.

The referee blew for full time shortly after, bringing to a close an efficient performance from Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City as the Islanders opened their 2023 Durand Cup campaign in style.

Mumbai City will next take on Jamshedpur FC at the VYBK on Tuesday, August 8 with action kicking off at 6:00 PM IST.