Ninthoi Meetei danced down the middle of the pitch before splitting open Aizawl's backline with an exquisite through ball to set up Rohit Danu, who calmly slotted it past Gurpreet Singh Chabal. Aizawl's defence was in sixes and sevens and Danu became the youngest goal-scorer in the history of I-League as two veteran defenders in Kareem Nurain and Richard Kassaga hung their head in disappointment.
The former I-League champions were reeling on the 10th spot and something needed to change. Gift Raikhan stepped down immediately after the match and Stanley Rosario was brought back from cold storage to do damage control.
The 58-year-old's last coaching stint in top tier was with Bharat FC back in 2014-15. But, the Bengaluru-based tactician had to ensure that the People's Club does not finish at the bottom of the pack.
"I knew that Mizo players are very talented. During my stint with Shillong Lajong, I learnt that all they need is proper motivation and guidance. I took a chance," said Rosario to Goal.
In their next game against Real Kashmir, Aizawl showed enough grit and determination to hold the Snow Leopards to a 0-0 draw. Nurain was deployed as a defensive midfielder to win the midfield battle against Bazie Armand and instead of relying on long balls, they started playing more short passes to frustrate the visitors.
Although there was a marked improvement in their gameplay, they weren't being clinical in front of goal. After going down narrowly against Chennai City, they drew blank against NEROCA even after Eduardo Ferreira got red-carded in the 48th minute.
Finally, against Minerva Punjab, they picked up the three points, courtesy of a solitary goal from Rinchhana, which gave them some breathing space in the relegation battle.
But Rosario believes that drawing against East Bengal at the Salt Lake Stadium even after getting reduced to 10-men for the final 25 minutes of the match remains the high point of this season.
"East Bengal are a champion side. You have to be exceptional to get a favourable result while playing against them in Kolkata and that too with a man down. I told my boys that do not be too defensive. They will then stifle you. Play your natural game and let's try to keep the ball as much as we can," explains Rosario.
It was this draw against Aizawl that derailed East Bengal's hopes of lifting silverware as they finished just a point behind eventual champions Chennai City FC.
In the subsequent matches, Aizawl picked up nine points from three games including a win against Petre Gigiu's Churchill Brothers. Against the Goan giants, Aizawl had only two overseas players at their disposal but the local players proved their mettle.
Paul Ramfangzauva flourished in midfield as the youngster kept spraying the passes in the attacking third, dictating the tempo of the play. Whereas, Lalkhawpuimawia's partnership with Ansumana Kromah upfront ensured that the team which was struggling to find the net a couple of weeks back could comeback from behind and win the match 2-1.
"Mapuia has the natural ability to score. He has good technique and is comfortable with the ball. If he continues to work hard, India can get a good striker in the future," believes Rosario.
Aizawl are taking on Chennaiyin FC in the Super Cup qualifiers and although the coach believes that it will be a 'tough match', he backs his boys to make it through to the final round.