With only three games left in the season, Aizawl FC’s aspirations of winning their maiden I-league title were dealt a cruel blow, courtesy a Marjan Jugovic stoppage time header, as they fell 1-0 to Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava stadium on Sunday.
Blues’ coach Albert Roca was clear from the outset that the pressure was on Aizawl to deliver the goods with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan breathing down their necks. And 90 minutes would feel elongated to Khalid Jamil’s boys as Bengaluru dominated the opening exchanges. Captain Sunil Chettri was called into action on the first corner, hitting the woodwork on a ball floated at the far post, before heading straight into custodian Albino Gomes’ hands. In the next minute, midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh sprinted on the right flank before seeing his low cross scuffed by 19-year old Mizo Daniel Lalhlimpuia.
Aizawl held a high line to withstand the early pressure, whilst pumping the ball up for striker Bayi Kamo Stephane to hold up and bring others into play. The Blues’ Spanish centre half Juanan Gonzalez kept glued to the Ivorian, even thwarting a couple of his runs down the channels.
The clearest chance for Bengaluru came when Udanta Singh was nastily fouled near the right side by-line resulting in a free-kick. Australian box-to-box man Cameron Watson floated it for an on-rushing Juanan, whose strike pinged off a sea of Red shirts before finally being cleared.
After a sluggish start, Aizawl’s Syrian playmaker Mahmoud Al Amnah found his groove to knit play together in the middle, dragging opposition full-back Nishu Kumar out of position regularly.
Still at 0-0, ex-Mumbai coach Jamil got into a tussle with Chettri at the West Block End after a succession of fouls. Aizawl regrouped when right-back Ashutosh Mehta belted one from over 35 yards, hitting the left hand post before Rane collected and curled narrowly wide. The best chance of the game by far.
Into the second half, Aizawl captain Afred Jaryan played marker, dribbler and forward in a single move, forcing Blues’ shot-stopper Amrinder Singh into a low save.
The Serbian forward was thrown into the mix by Roca, and his very first touch drew a foul. The ensuing free-kick saw Watson swing in and Juanan being brought down in the box. The crowd cried for what Roca later claimed was a clear-cut penalty, but the referee wasn’t interested.
Jaryan and Amnahtook matters in their own hands, bossing the game with mazy runs and shots on target. Meanwhile, Jugovic was cautioned and looked a villain from nearly every angle – spraying passes, losing possession and being beaten for pace.
The villain turned hero at the very death, when Jaryan went into the book for a bad challenge. Chettri, who’d been lacklustre all game, stood over it and swung it to the far post. Jugovic evaded his shoddy marker to nod the ball home, sparking mad celebrations and ensuring Bengaluru would still be involved in this title race – one way or another.