Former champions Aizawl FC beat defending champions Minerva Punjab FC 1-0 in a 15th round match of the I-League on Friday. The all-important goal was scored by Lalrinchhana in the 69th minute. With this win, the Stanley Rosario-coached Aizawl leapfrogged their Friday hosts and moved to seventh on the points table, with 14 points from 15 games.
They were in 10th spot before this game, deep into the relegation zone, but this result takes them out of it for now. For Minerva, the season got from bad to worse, as they suffered their seventh defeat in 15 games. With an AFC Champions League play-off campaign coming up, it will not inspire their side, despite a heroic effort from their young keeper Arshdeep Singh.
It was a scrappy affair for most part of the game, except for a period in the second half when Aizawl looked enterprising. Minerva’s coach Paul Munster even played new recruits Juan Quero of Spain and Mahmoud Al Amna of Syria, but his team’s goal and win drought continued.
The Mizoram team has now picked up five points since new coach Rosario took over. The first chance of the game came Minerva’s way when, off a Juan Quero cross from the left flank, Dilliram Sanyasi got under a volley but the effort lacked power and direction.
Then, Kussaga took a shot in the 19th minute for Aizawl from a distance but Arshdeep in the Minerva goal was equal to it. Albert then made a purposeful foray from the right channel for Aizawl to deliver a delicious cross but Arshdeep again made a timely intervention to thwart the danger.
The second half saw Aizawl pressing hard, particularly through Isak, whose runs from the right troubled a Minerva defence without the solid Lancine Toure.
After a few scoring chances were missed by the likes of Kussaga and Kareem Nurain, thanks mainly to Arshdeep’s heroics, Isak’s first purposeful run from the right channel brought Aizawl a much-deserved lead.
He found the shortest player on the field and the youngster Lalrinchhana pulled off a delectable header across the face of goal to beat Arshdeep.
Akash Sangwan missed a golden opportunity to equalise a couple of minutes later, finding himself in the clear inside the Aizawl box, but with only the keeper to beat, his shot was woefully wide off target.
Munster brought on Mahmoud Al Amna late in the game in a desperate attempt but a goal still eluded Minerva and Aizawl held on for a win.
(With PTI Inputs)