Aizawl tames the Mariners at their den promising a pulsating end to the season

Photo: Aizawl FC
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Aizawl FC are just one point away from winning the I-League title after a stunning 1-0 victory over title rivals Mohun Bagan in front of a capacity crowd at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl on Saturday. The hostile situation somewhat made the players struggle for the visibility but the fan’s presence and cheer inspite of the rains kept the players going.

It was central defender Zohmingliana Ralte who popped up with a late header (83′) that sent them three points clear of Mohun Bagan with one game left to play in the I-League. In Aizawl, it was Mohun Bagan who started brilliantly with Darryl Duffy, presented with a golden chance to take the lead. It was Sony Norde who started the move with a sensational pass that sent Duffy through but the Scotsman’s shot was saved by Albino Gomes, much to the disappointment of Sanjoy Sen.

Though the match settled into a rhythm with both teams matching each other after that initial chance, Laldunmawia had a chance for Aizawl when he got past Raju Gaikwad and sent a shot over.

Meanwhile, the visibility in the stadium dropped down to a low as the cloud cover and fog meant the action unfolding on the pitch was hard to comprehend at times.

The support for the home team inside the stadium was absolutely overwhelming with loud chants and chorus’ accompanying every forward pass from a red shirt. On a rare foray forward Mohun Bagan skipper Yusa Katsumi played Norde through with a chipped pass but his cutback was well cut out by Eze Kingsley.

There were a couple of stoppages near the half-time mark with play being impeded due to a dense cloud cover and heavy fog but when the game resumed, the rhythm from the game had well died down.

Meanwhile, Aizawl soon regained their rhythm and an excellent counter saw Dammawia break forward and try and send Bayi through but the Ivorian’s control let him down and Bagan cleared. It was Aizawl who were intent on getting a goal and Jayesh Rane sent a shot from range wide before Alfred Jaryan saw a drive from 20 yards out also go the wrong side of the post as the teams broke for the interval with the scoreline reading 0-0.
After the half-time break, it was Aizawl who started with intent as they created two glorious chances within 12 minutes of the restart as Mohun Bagan looked sluggish. Former Syrian international Mahmoud Al Amna seemed to have broken the shackles on him in the first half and fashioned a chance for Rane after robbing Eduardo near the left wing only to see his shot just inch wide.

On the 57th minute, Laldanmawia should have given his team the lead but for a brilliant block from Pritam Kotal. A dangerous cross swung into the Bagan box from the left wing fell to Al Amna who left it for Danmawia who saw his shot from close range blocked by Kotal.

Mahmoud Al Amna, touted as a key player in this game, came into his own as he saw a shot blocked by Eduardo before stealing the ball from Sehnaj and embark on a counter. He fed the ball to Brandon Vanlalremdika whose cross back was snuffed out by Bagan defenders.

Mohun Bagan were stifled at times with Sony Norde unable to get on the ball much with Ashutosh Mehta and Danmawia paying him close attention at times. The former even collected a booking in the 70th minute for a reckless challenge on him.

Meanwhile, Prabir Das who had replaced the ineffectual Kolkata derby hero Azharuddin Mallick, fashioned some good opportunity for Sanjoy Sen’s team. He got past Laramchullova on many occassions but saw his final balls wasted – once by Jeje who could not connect properly and once by the alert Aizawl defence.

Khalid Jamil’s side who were growing desperate as each moment went by, finally got the goal they deserved in the 83rd minute following a corner. It was the impressive Mahmoud Al Amna who took the setpiece which made its way unhindered to Zohmingliana Ralte at the backpost who was not marked by Raju Gaikwad. With Debjit coming out to collect the corner and failing to get close, Ralte’s header ruffled the back of the net, as the Aizawl crowd went into a frenzy.

Aizawl are now favourites for the title, having regained the top spot in the league table with 36 points from 17

They are now on the brink of creating history as even a draw in their last match against Shillong Lajong FC will see them cap their fairytale run and become the first team from the north-east to win the I-League.

Mohun Bagan on the other hand, are in a complicated situation. The Kolkata giants have dropped to the second place with a tally of 33 points from 17 matches.

They need to beat top division debutants Chennai City FC in their last match and hope that Lajong manage to defeat Aizawl. If the fervent prayers of their fans are answered and such a scenario does happen, then Mohun Bagan will win the title due to their superior goal difference and head to head record.But for the time being India’s own Leicester City story by Jamil’s boys seems well and trully on!