An own from defender Daniel Addo in the 45th minute along with a peach of a strike from Andrei Ionescu in the 52nd minute gave defending champions Aizawl FC a 2-0 victory over new entrants Gokulam FC in Calicut on Sunday.
Injury concerns limited Bino George's options in the selection of his starting lineup. The backline remained unchanged but goalkeeper Nikhil Barnard replaced Bilal in between the sticks. Vicky Metei, Usman Ashik and Laldampuia formed the frontline with the support of Rashid, Arjun Jayaraj and Mohamed Irshad in midfield
Masih Saighani continued in defence with Andrei Ionescu shaking off fitness concerns to make it to the starting lineup for Aizawl. Yugo Kobayashi and Leonce Dodoz were tasked with leading the team up front.
Humid conditions in Calicut seemed to affect both teams in the early stages of the game. The ball was mostly stuck in midfield but Gokulam Kerala did get a sight on goal within ten minutes from kick-off.
From a free-kick outside the box, Usman Ashik sent a teasing ball into the centre of the box targeting Mohamed Rashid. The midfielder failed to connect properly, allowing Avilash Paul to collect the ball on his second attempt.
Laldampuia was taken off early by Bino George. The striker found it difficult to get going and Arif Shaikh was brought on at the half-hour mark.
Aizawl enjoyed the majority of the ball in the first half but the defending champions found clear-cut chances hard to come by. At the other end, Rashid's shot flew wide of the post to scare Avilash in goal as the game move towards the break.
The defending champions broke the deadlock by forcing an own goal off Daniel Addo. Hmunmawia's cross from the left was flicked by Yugo Kobayashi at the near post. The ball struck the Gokulam Kerala defender's leg and the deflection helped it into the net.
The visitors were quick to double their lead in the second half. Lalmuankima's through-ball found Andrei Ionescu who cut onto his right foot and curled a shot into the corner of the net to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.
Gokulam switched gears soon after and surged forwards into Aizawl's box in numbers after the second goal. One such foray forward by defensive midfielder Irshad had Avilash worried as the No.6 sent his shot inches wide of the post from the edge of the box.
First-half substitute Arif Sheikh spurned a golden chance for the home side to come back into the game when his shot beat the goalie and the goal from a one-on-one scenario.
Both sides were wasteful in possession and failed to exert full control over proceedings in Calicut. The scorching sun seemed to have got the better of the teams and the home side brought on Francis Ambane, their star midfielder, for the last 10 minutes despite his fitness concerns.
The half-fit Ambane failed to boss the midfield like he did against East Bengal in their previous match as Andre Ionescu ran the show for the visitors. Lalmuankima should have added to the score-line as the game move towards full-time but Chigozie's goal-line clearance saved Gokulam from further misery.
There would be no further attempts as the match pattered towards its inevitable conclusion with the problems for the new entrants from Kerala ever increasing.