Mohun Bagan recorded a convincing 2-0 win over Shillong Lajong FC in a second-round match to leapfrog Aizawl FC, who won earlier in the day, and go top of the I-League table.
An own goal by Loveday Okechukwu in the fourth minute of injury time gave Aizawl their first win of the I-League against Minerva Punjab at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl on Friday.
This came after more than 90 minutes of frustration for the home side, thwarted by a combination of gritty defending and the brilliance of goalkeeper Ravi Kumar. Kumar, though, was lucky to get away with just a yellow card after what looked like a deliberate handball outside the box late in the second half.
Aizawl started with Syrian international Mahmoud Al Amna in central midfield, supporting captain Alfred Jaryan and Jayesh Rane in the middle of the pitch, while Albert Zohmingmawia and Kamo Bayi operated as strikers. Minerva made three changes from the team that drew 0-0 away to Chennai City in the opening round, with defender Palsang Lama and midfielders Souvik Das and Simranjeet Singh coming in for Gurjinder Kumar, Nuruddin and Germanpreet Singh.
Al Amna would make an immediate impact, threading the needle in the midfield in the first minute -- setting up the first chance for Bayi. However, the Ivory Coast striker's shot would deflect off Zohmingmawia for a goal-kick. Aizawl would continue to dominate possession in the early stages, winning a free-kick in the 7th minute, which saw Jaryan's attempt tipped over by Kumar. Kumar was called upon immediately after to deflect Al Amna's shot from inside the penalty box.
The hosts would get another chance to open their account in the 20th minute, after Al Amna stole possession in the middle of the park and released right back Lalrinzuala, whose cross was attacked by Bayi, but Kumar's decision to come out of his line did enough to deny Aizawl a goal.
Minerva began countering Al Amna's influence by maintaining a high backline, and this paid dividends with Aizawl's attackers finding themselves offside on a couple of occasions. The visitors had their first sight of goal in the 35th minute, but Vinit Rai's attempt from just outside the penalty box was off target.
In the last minute of the first half, Minerva put pressure on Aizawl off a corner, and then the hosts broke through Al Amna, whose pinpoint cross found Rane. Rane chipped Kumar, who had come off his line, only to find the ball graze the cross bar and go over the goal.
Aizawl would create an opening immediately after the restart, with left-back Lalruatthara dribbling past the Minerva defence and cutting the ball back for his team mate, but this time Bayi was closed down by the Minerva defence and prevented from getting a shot on goal.
Ten minutes into the second half, Minerva made an impact again on the Aizawl defence -- with Victor Amobi feeding Simranjeet Singh on the left, who laid the ball up for Manandeep Singh -- but the shot was saved by Albino Gomes. Two minutes later, a poor-attempted clearance in defence from Minerva landed the ball at the feet of Zohmingmawia, but he would shoot wide.
Minerva had a double-chance in the 66th minute, both created by crosses from Amobi from the right. While the first saw Gomes come way off his line only to miss the flight of the ball and then be bailed out by his defenders, it was Joel Sunday who couldn't get a substantial enough contact with the second. In the 70th minute, it was Aizawl who created an opening, with Al Amna playing Lalmuankima through on the right, and his aerial cut back was headed with power by Lalruatthara, only for Kumar to effect another solid save.
In the 76th minute, there was a loose ball that fell for Bayi outside the Minerva box, and Kumar came charging out and appeared to stop a goal-bound chip with his hands, injuring himself in the process. The referee curiously gave only a yellow card, allowing coach Surinder Singh to replace Kumar with Kamaljit Singh in goal, and Aizawl failed to make much headway with the free kick.
The best chance for the visitors came in the first minute of added time, when substitute striker Uttam Rai was played in from the left, but denied by an advancing Gomes. Moments later, the ball sat up inside the box for Bayi but he failed to keep his header on target with Kamaljit Singh able to deflect the ball for a corner.
The corner was delivered by Al Amna, and Loveday -- under pressure from Aizawl's substitute Ashutosh Mehta -- miscued his header to score an own goal that gave Khalid Jamil his first win as coach of the hosts.
Minerva Punjab now travel for their third successive away game, against 2015 champions Mohun Bagan in Kolkata on January 17, while Aizawl FC will host Shillong Lajong in the first north-east derby of the season the same day.
Duffy double takes Mohun Bagan top
Mohun Bagan's Scottish striker Darryl Duffy scored a double to power them to a 2-0 win over Shillong Lajong FC. The second successive win took Bagan to the top of the I-League table. They had beaten Churchill Brothers 1-0 in their opening match in Barasat.
Duffy broke the deadlock in the 21st minute when he collected a brilliant cross and swerved past defenders and Shillong goalkeeper Vishal Kaith before scoring with a clinical left-footer.
The Shillong outfit stepped up the pressure looking for an equaliser but the Mariners held on before the Scot brought up his brace in the 77th minute when Pronay Halder set it up from a 40-yard long-ranger. Balwant Singh kept the ball inside the box by dodging Lajong captain Dan Gelu Ignat as Duffy, who was lurking inside, slotted it home.
Shillong Lajong had lost their first match 3-0 to defending champions Bengaluru FC.