Aizawl, April 22 (IANS) Zohmingliana Ralte headed in a late winner as Aizawl FC edged closer to creating history with a 1-0 victory over Mohun Bagan in a crucial I-League match at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here on Saturday.
Ralte (83rd minute) exploited some loose marking by the Mohun Bagan defenders to find the net in the closing stages of a match which saw an intense battle between the two teams.
Aizawl are now favourites for the title, having regained the top spot in the league table with 36 points from 17 matches.
They are now on the brink of creating history as even a draw in their last match against Shillong Lajong FC will see them cap their fairytale run and become the first team from the north-east to win the I-League.
Mohun Bagan on the other hand, are in a complicated situation. The Kolkata giants have dropped to the second place with a tally of 33 points from 17 matches.
They need to beat top division debutants Chennai City FC in their last match and hope that Lajong manage to defeat Aizawl. If the fervent prayers of their fans are answered and such a scenario does happen, then Mohun Bagan will win the title due to their superior goal difference and head to head record.
The match was played under a near continuous drizzle and heavy fog which affected visibility quite badly.
Needing only a draw to strengthen their claim to the title, the visitors seemed a bit sluggish throughout the game.
Although their defence did well to keep the Aizawl attacks at bay for most of the match, the forward line seemed to run out of ideas in front of the rival goal.
The visitors put pressure on the Aizawl defence on several occasions but were let down by a lack of quality in the final pass.
Played in front of packed, boisterous stands the match was off to an exhilarating start. Mohun Bagan started the stronger of the two teams as the hosts took their time to settle down.
But as the Aizawl players managed to steady the initial nerves and find their feet, it became more of an equal battle.
Mohun Bagan were awarded a free-kick 11 minutes into the match. The ball ended up with Mohun Bagan star Jeje Lalpekhlua inside the Aizawl penalty box.
Inconveniently positioned, he failed to utilize the chance to give his side the lead against the team from his home state.
A few minutes later, Laldanmawia Ralte almost scored for the hosts when he found himself in possession inside the Mohun Bagan penalty box. But he was let down by poor finishing.
Soon after, Aizawl's Syrian import Mehmoud Al Amna dribbled past a few Mohun Bagan players and tapped the ball towards Jayesh Rane whose powerful shot went a few inches wide of the goal.
Mohun Bagan got an excellent chance in the 22nd minute when their Japanese import Yusa Katsumi entered the penalty box and found star winger Sony Norde on the left.
Norde's pass into the six-yard box was somehow blocked out by the Aizawl defence.
In the 39th minute, Al Amna made an excellent run before laying it for Rane with a back heel. Rane's long ranger was inches wide of the mark.
Just minutes before the first half ended, Aizawl captain Alfred Jaryan produced another long ranger but the ball flew inches wide of the post.
Aizawl started the second half strongly and put the Mohun Bagan defence under pressure with repeated attacks.
About 10 minutes into the second half, Aizawl midfielder Brandon Vanlalremdika's cross from the left flank was received by Laldanmawia whose attempt was thwarted by Mohun Bagan defender Anas Edathodika.
The hosts wasted a golden chance to take the lead in the 57th minute when a dangerous cross into the visitors' box from the left wing fell to Al Amna who left it for Laldanmawia Ralte.
But Laldanmawia's close range shot was blocked by Mohun Bagan defender Pritam Kotal.
The hosts staged a counter-attack in the 62nd minute when Al Amna snatched the ball from Sehnaj Singh in midfield and started on a long, speedy run.
The Syrian passed to Laldanmawia near the edge of the visitors' penalty box but the attempted cross was blocked out by Sehnaj who did well to track back and foil the danger.
Norde created another chance for Mohun Bagan in the 72nd minute when Aizawl goalkeeper Albino Gomes had to stretch himself to punch out the Haitian international's free kick from the right.
With the match seemingly headed for a goalless draw, Zohmingliana Ralte sent the home crowd into raptures when he jumped high at the far post to head in a corner from Al Amna.
Aizawl could have doubled their lead during second half added time when a quick counter-attack saw Al Amna find Lalramchullova inside the visitors' penalty box.
However, with plenty of time and space at his disposal, Lalramchullova could only come up with a poor touch and the Mohun Bagan defence averted the danger.