Former champions Aizawl FC got the better of defending champions Minerva Punjab FC 1-0 in a 12th Hero I-League 15th round clash at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula, Haryana on Friday. The all-important goal was scored by youngster Lalrinchhana in the 69th minute of the second half.
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 piled up their seventh defeat in 15 games. With an AFC Champions League campaign coming up, it will not inspire their side for sure, despite a heroic effort from their young keeper Arshdeep Singh.
It was a scrappy affair for most parts of the game, except for a period in the second half when Aizawl looked enterprising. Minerva’s Northern Irish 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 side has now picked up five points since new coach Rosario took over.
Minerva made as many as five changes to their starting line-up at the start of the game, prominent among them being Juan Quero and Ivorian Kouame Zacharie reinforcing the attacking formation.
For Aizawl, Rochhar Zela, Hmingthan Mawia and Mapuia made way for Ansumanah Kromah, Vanlalthanga and Lalrinchhana to make starts.
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 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 up the ante a little bit, particularly through Isak, whose runs from the right troubled a Minerva defence without the solid Lancine Toure today.
After a few chances to score 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 ill-directed.
Isak again played in Dodoz this time in the 72nd minute, with another lovely ball from the right, but the Ivorian’s strike was saved by the Minerva keeper. 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.