AIZAWL FC got their historic maiden top-tier league victory today as they took on fellow debutant club DSK Shivajians at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl today.
The home team saw a huge outpouring of support from local fans despite the match being held on a working day afternoon. Aizawl FC coach Manuel Retamero Fraile made four substitutions to the side that played Bengaluru FC on this ground last week. He brought in Sothanmawia at goal and Lalrinpuia, Zohmingmawia as well as Japanese medio Yuta Kinowaki into the squad.
DSK Shivajians coach Derrick Pereira made just one change from the team that drew away at Sporting Clube de Goa; resiting Mohammed Rafi to hand Milan Singh a start.
The game began with some back and forth as both teams prodded each other to find out who stood where. Winger Indrajit Chougale tried a pass to Dipanda but missed him. Then there was a call for penalty as Aizawl striker Valpuia entered the DSK box and the ball hit defender Zotea's hand; but the referee didn't agree to the shout. Then DSK forward Dipanda managed to find his way past a number of Aizawl defenders and send in a cross but Ruatthara managed to clear it to safety.
But soon Aizawl FC took control of the game. The midfield which gave trouble to their previous opponents, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC, proved to be too fast for the Shivajians to handle, especially with the inclusion of Kinowaki. Captain David Lalrimuana was playing especially well, marshalling the midfield around him and ensuring smooth initiations of attacks.
And soon they saw the fruit of their labours. In the 18th minute, Alfred Jaryan, the Liberian forward who played for Mohammedan Sporting and Mumbai FC in the past, was left unmarked inside the penalty box in a costly blunder by DSK defenders and when the ball fell to him he made no mistake in slamming it into the net. The crowd roared as Aizawl FC players celebrated their first ever top division goal, which eluded them for more than 200 minutes of football.
Aizawl intensified their attacks after this. Alfred invaded the DSK box and fed Brandon Vanlalremdika who took the shot but Subrata Paul made a stunning save. Minutes later another shot from Brandon found its way past two defenders and almost went in but Subrata made another diving save to deny Aizawl a second goal. But that wasn't going to last long.
Yuta Kinowaki got the ball at a scoring distance and sent in a shot powerful enough to beat Subrata's outstretched hand to ram into the net. Just before half-time, Aizawl FC were 2-0 ahead.
In the second half Derrick Pereira tried to salvage things by bringing Mohammed Rafi into the game, replacing Indrajit Chougale, early on. But there was little he could do. Aizawl FC were running things, dominating possession and carrying out attacks at will.
Goal scorer Alfred Jaryan picked up an injury and had to be taken out for treatment before coming back on but he couldn't carry on for much longer. Malsawmtluanga replaced him some 66 minutes in. DSK made their changes too, trying to speed up the attack with Israil Gurung and Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte. But it seemed that no matter how hard they tried, Aizawl FC were able to slow down the game and control the ball to their own advantage. Coach Fraile also brought in Lalbiakhlua, a defender, to replace Kinowaki in order to further fortify the defence and protect the lead.
In the end it was a 2-0 victory for Aizawl FC. It didn't look much difficult, sitting on the lead and holding the Shivajians at an arm's length. With this win, Aizawl FC are no longer at the bottom of the table. And their campaign to stabilize their seat in the top division is well and truly off the ground. With the steam they have picked up today, they will take on Sporting Clube de Goa with extra vigour in the next round, seeking to turn this winning start into a streak and assert that though newly promoted, they are not a force to be trifled with in the I-League.