Aizawl FC's hopes of landing the I-League title were dealt a blow by defending champions Bengaluru FC who struck deep in stoppage time to break Khalid jamil's boys' hearts.
After it seemed league leaders Aizawl would leave Bengaluru with a point Marjan Jugovic popped up with a dramtic goal to uplift the spirits of title-chasing East Bengal and Mohun Bagan who clash later tonight.
Both Albert Roca and Khalid Jamil rung a change each to the side that took the pitch in their last I-League games respectively. Having picked up an ankle knock, Sandesh Jhingan sat out for Nishu Kumar, while Lalthakima for Kingsley Obumneme.
The game got off to a good start as Bengaluru were using their width to break down the stubborn Aizawl defence. In the fifth minute, Sunil Chhetri led a break down the left side and managed to win a corner. From the corner came the game’s first real chance as Watson’s delivery found Chhetri and he hit the woodwork. The ball came back to him, but this time his header was claimed easily by Albino Gomes.
Brandon Vanlalremdika was having a good game for Aizawl as he was able to combine well with Bayi Kamo on several occasions, but the Ivorian’s selfish instincts meant the moves went to waste.
Ten minutes in, there was a terrific interplay between Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Udanta Singh to set the latter free after a good pass from Watson, but poor decision making resulted in a rushed cross hit out for a goalkick.
Aizawl were looking reliant on their front-man Bayi to provide inspiration and were repeatedly hoofing it up to him, making his clashes with John Johnson and Juanan enjoyable viewing.
With twenty one minutes gone, Bengaluru had a great chance as Cameron Watson’s corner was towards an unmarked Juanan, and his first-time effort was taking deflections left, right and center, in the six-yard box. However, it ended well for Aizawl who were able to clear it.
In the very next minute, the Blues were back at it and Chhetri cut in from the left to set up Daniel. However, his shot was palmed away by Gomes. Udanta had his night prematurely cut out as he picked up an injury and was replaced by Alwyn George.
The visitors had a shout for a penalty just past the half-hour mark, when Brandon was brought down in the box. But the referee wasn’t interested, leading to exasperated protests from the Aizawl man.
Forty minutes in, Ashutosh Mehta was pushed by Daniel and the referee who was standing a metre away gave nothing. But right then Daniel went down from Kingsley Obumneme's challenge with no apparent contact and a freekick was given to the Blues. Jamil, standing right on that touchline, wasn’t impressed and got involved into a conflict with Chhetri, leading to a ringing of boos and profanities from the crowd.
Right before the whistle, Aizawl had a good spell with little incisiveness and Mehta decided to take things into his own hands as he lashed out a shot from over thirty yards out, and it crashed out of Amrinder’s woodwork, taking everyone by surprise.
There was another moment of brilliance from Mehta on the other end ten minutes after the restart, as he slid in perfectly to cut out Daniel’s pass to Chhetri that would have set the skipper free on goal.
Eight minutes later, Juanan went down, a tad bit softly, when vying for a free-kick swung in by Watson. He looked to the referee for a penalty, but there was little sympathy.
The game took up a sloppy routine with misplaced passes and poor crossing galore, but Mahmoud Al Amna was gaining a stronghold and taking charge of proceedings as the minutes went by. A quarter after the hour-mark, he very nearly broke the deadlock when he improvised when given no time on the ball to toepoke it towards goal, but it went agonizingly wide. Shortly afterwards, he sprung past the defense again, but was beaten to the ball by Amrinder Singh.
It was looking like a matter of time before Aizawl, with the tempo of proceedings powering their sails, score a late winner and remain atop the league standings.
But fate, and a burly Serbian had other ideas.
Deep into stoppage time, Aizawl hearts were broken as Chhetri swung in a freekick from the right and substitute Marjan Jugovic leaped past the defense and powered it into the net with a thumping header.
Jamil’s side would have to pick themselves back up on another night, but such an agonizing defeat after getting close umpteen times would have certainly broken their spirits for the time being!