Aizawl FC have leapfrogged Indian Arrows to occupy the sixth spot in the I-League standings with a 2-1 victory over Minerva Punjab at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Mizoram. It was goalless at half-time before Kareem Nurain (72') and Andrei Ionescu (85') scored in the second half. Girik Khosla (90+5') scored a late consolation goal for the visitors.
Aizawl FC coach Paulo Menezes made four changes to his side that faced Shillong Lajong. Wingback Lalrinzuala Khiangte made way for Lalrindiana and in midfield, Lalbiakthanga and Lalthathanga Khawlhring was replaced by Andrei Ionescu and David Lalrinmuana respectively. In attack, experienced campaigner Yugo Kobayashi was replaced by youngster William Lalnunfela.
Khogen Singh made no changes to the side that defeated the Indian Arrows last week with Rakshit Dagar continuing in goal with William Asiedu leading the attack with the support of Chencho Gyeltshen in midfield.
Aizawl FC started the game with intent as they were quick to move the ball around the park and chose the right flank through Leonce Dodoz to build most of their attacks.
The first chance of the game also fell for the Reds when Dagar fumbled the ball from a Masih Saighani header. Dodoz was slow to get a second bite of the cherry as the Minerva goalkeeper snuffed out the danger in his second attempt.
Set-pieces continued to trouble Minerva as David managed to produce inch-perfect deliveries for his teammates. Dagar had to come up with a fine reflex save to keep out an acrobatic attempt at goal by Saighani with his left foot. Minutes later, the Afghan defender again managed to head down a brilliant ball by David for fellow defensive partner Nurani, who failed to keep his effort on target.
Saighani had managed to pierce the net in the 20th minute from another David free-kick but the referee chose to cancel out the goal as he was deemed to have elbowed Bali Gagandeep while trying to get to the ball.
Against the run of play, Minerva got a sniff of the goal in the 35th minute when skipper Kassim Aidara managed to pull off a clean header from a brilliant set-piece delivery by Chencho but the Senegalese could not keep his effort on target.
It was a complete one-way traffic at half-time as the north-eastern side refused to give Minerva any space to operate and Bhutanese starlet Chencho had to drop deep a couple of times to help out at the back as Aizawl continued to create chances in the attacking third.
Aizawl maintained the same tempo in the second half as well, seeing the bulk of the ball in the opening minutes after the break.
Dodoz was close to breaking the deadlock two minutes before getting involved in the first goal when the Ivory Coast forward shot wide from Ionescu's defence-splitting through ball. Nurain headed in from a Dodoz corner to give the home side a deserving lead in the 73rd minute.
With Minerva stuck on the back foot, Ionescu made a fantastic switch of play from the left to the right to find Dodoz. The number 10 danced past the right back to lay off a perfectly weighted ball for the Romanian, who slotted it past Dagar.
The five minutes of injury time was put to use by Khosla to add a late consolation. He took advantage of a defensive lapse from Nurain as his header back to the goalkeeper fell for the Minerva man who found the back of the net with his knee.
Both Paulo Menezes and Khogen Singh will next rally their men against Gokulam Kerala FC away from home on December 31 and January 6 respectively.