Big players deliver in big games. What often separates big players from the rest is composure. It was a quality both Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC relied on during crucial wins ahead of their I-League meeting on April 22.
The two teams went into gameweek 16 as joint leaders. Ahead of their meeting in the penultimate round, this was a crunch week, both needing three points on tricky trips to keep the title race alive.
While Aizawl turned to their leading scorer Kamo Bayi - just 20 years of age and playing in his debut season, Bagan turned to their talisman Sony Norde, 27, in his third season, and having already won the league with them in 2014-15. Bayi scored a brace to become the league's second highest goal-scorer, taking Aizawl to the top for a brief period, before Norde scored an 84th minute winner to regain the top spot for Bagan.
Kamo Bayi: The Iceman
Unlike Norde, Bayi doesn't have the experience that counts in crucial games such as this one. Although this is his first season in I-League, he has been in India for a considerable amount of time. Born in the Ivory Coast, his youth career started in Nigeria before he moved to Kolkata to play in the Calcutta Premier League and then for Salgaocar in the Goa Professional league, which is where he got noticed.
Bayi's biggest strengths are his pace and finishing, two aspects of his game that were on show in his brace against Churchill. The ability to get into the box, hold the ball and see an opening makes him lethal. The Ivorian also has the ability to see the players around him and distribute the ball in attacking areas. Brandon Vanlalremdika and R Laldanmawia have benefitted from his eagle-eye vision and slowly, as the season passed by, Bayi has become a vital cog in Khalid Jamil's resurgent team.
The quality that stood out against Churchill, however, was his composure. Bayi kept his cool during both the goals. The first involved some hapless defending from Churchill, but Bayi brushed off two defenders to slot the ball coolly past the keeper's legs. The second was a great passage of play from Aizawl that got the finish it deserved, when he chipped the keeper from ten yards out after being found by Vanlalremdika's pin-point cross.
Want to win the league, Aizawl? Give Bayi the ball in the box.
Sony Norde: Bagan's go-to man
With the title on the line and six minutes left in a goalless game, whom do you trust? The player who won you the league with his goals, assists and feet that can get past the league's best tacklers.
Sony Norde ran through the left, easily strolled into the box to slot the ball past the keeper in superb finish in the 84th minute. This, after the whole team had to travel 2,200 kms from Shillong to Ludhiana with just two days to prepare for the important game.
Experience, the asset that separates champions from the rest on most occasions was Sony Norde's closest ally.
Norde hasn't been at his best this season, with Duffy carrying the burden of goals for Bagan, but at the business end of the season, when it matters most, he is showing his class. A goal in the Kolkata derby last week reminded many that he isn't yet finished. The goal against Minerva snapped Bagan's seven-match winless streak on the road.
With Bagan playing an AFC Cup game at home three days before the trip to Aizawl, the odds are slightly in favour of the underdogs, but with Norde hitting the right notes at such an important juncture, Aizawl know that they can't take anything for granted.
Neither Bayi nor Norde lack composure, but come April 22, they will need something else in abundance: Desire.