AIZAWL: Late goals from Kareem Omolaja Nurian and Andrei Ionescu were enough for Aizawl FC to beat Minerva Punjab FC 2-1 in an I-League 2017/18 clash at the Rajiv Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Wednesday.
In the wake of the hard fought win, the defending champions have now collected 7 points from 4 outings, with victory moving the Paulo Menezes-coached side up to sixth spot on the league table.
On the other hand, Minerva, who suffered their first defeat in I-League, did remain on top of standings but should East Bengal beat Gokulam Kerala FC later in the day, they would found themselves on second spot.
The game lacked any real rhythm in the opening exchanges with both sides guilty of squandering possession too easily, in what was a cagey and somewhat frustrating start to the game.
Aizawl, though, looked the more likely to open the scoring and almost did so in the 8th minute when Leonce Dodoz forced his way through on the left side of the box only to shot into a defender.
Meanwhile, Minerva had their first chance of the encounter with 16 minutes on the clock when some good work by William Opoku Asiedu and Chencho Gyeltshen tee up Bali Gagandeep whose effort whistled wide of goal.
Five minutes later, Masih Saighani thought he pulled Aizawl ahead as the Afghan defender slammed the back of the net from David Lalrinmuana’s free-kick, although his effort was ruled out for offside.
Before the half hour, Aizawl had another chance when the enterprising Alfred Jaryan crossed from the right and Dodoz shot first time, but straight at Minerva keeper Rakshit Dagar.
Thereafter, neither side were able to create any further chances in the first-half with the score deadlocked 0-0 as the teams headed for the tunnel at the break.
The game followed a similar tempo following the interval with both teams reluctant to take a chance and throw numbers forward.
However, Aizawl, following a slow start, found their rhythm as the game crossed the hour mark with the pair of Alfred and Dodoz the main protagonists.
The duo linked up in the 64th minute as Dodoz guided his header from Alfred’s cross narrowly wide of goal.
Aizawl, thereafter, continued to boss possession, but were found wanting in the final third with Minerva pinned in their own half.
The hosts’ perseverance was finally rewarded with a goal from Kareem, as the defender scored against his former side from David’s free-kick in the 72nd minute.
Dodoz nearly doubled the lead for Aizawl four minutes later, but the former Mohammedan SC striker placed his attempt wide of the target.
Meanwhile, the visitors also pushed for the equalizer but in the process left a lots of gaps, which Aizawl exploited when Ionescu slotted from Dodoz’s pass to secure full three points for Aizawl.
Nonetheless, Minerva did manage to find a consolation goal in recognition of their efforts as substitute Girik Khosla slotted in stoppage time after a failed clearance by Kareem fell for the youngster.