Leaders Bashundhara Kings went seven points clear of nearest contenders Abahani with a single-goal victory in a make-or-break Bangladesh Premier League encounter at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Kyrgyz forward Bakthiyar Duishobekov scored the all-important goal from a free-kick in the first half to help Bashundhara Kings remain unbeaten in the race and consolidate their lead with 40 points from 14 matches.
Despite a morale-boosting 3-2 win over Chennaiyin FC in the AFC Cup four days ago, Abahani failed to transfer their international performance into domestic circuit against leaders Bashundhara Kings, who got a jolt before the game as centre-back Nasir Chowdhury sustained an injury during warm-up.
Spanish coach Oscar Bruzon was forced to send Duishobekov in defence which promted the newcomers to adopt a counter-attacking strategy against Abahani, a team they defeated 3-0 in the first leg in Nilphamari.
Six-time champions Abahani enjoyed better possession but they could hardly expose the solid defence of Bashundhara, who kept the opposition forwards away from having shots on target.
However, Abahani could have taken the lead on the half-hour mark had either Sunday Chizoba or Masih Saighani connected to a curling free-kick from Mamunul Islam. It was a wake-up call for Bashundhara, who took the lead against the run of play in the 37th minute.
Midfielder Sohel Rana unnecessary fouled Masuk Mia Jonny to give away a free-kick before Duishobekov’s dipping shot from 30 yards found the back of Abahani net evading the wall, sending the Bashundhara fans into rapture.
After resumption, Abahani established their full control on the game and launched attacks, with Sunday getting a brilliant defence-splitting through-pass from Kervens Belfort in the 50th minute, but the Nigerian wasted the chance while Bashundhara goalkeeper Anisur Rahman Zico denied Sunday from a point-blank position on the hour-mark. Three minutes later, Belfort was denied by Mohammad Ibrahim from the goalline while Bashundara squandered a good opportunity from a counter-attack as Alamgir Kabir Rana narrowly missed the target in the 68th minute.
In the last 10 minutes, the game became very exciting as both sides came close to scoring a few times. Sunday missed the target from the six-yard box in the 87th minute before Belfort saw his header on a Mamunul cross come off the crossbar in the next minute. Bashundhara also exposed the Abahani defence twice, but Raihan Hassan made a goalline save against Daniel Colindres, who later squandered another opportunity in the stoppage-time from a counter-attack.
“Now it is very difficult for us to get back in the title race. We can’t depend on Bashundhara Kings dropping points. We will have to do our job and secure full points from the remaining matches,” said Abahani coach Mario Lemos after the match.
“We still have a long way to go to ensure the title because we have a few away matches. However, we are on the right track to our objective,” said Bashundhara Kings coach Oscar Bruzon.