Naihati, April 22: Aizawl FC defeated Real Kashmir FC 3-2 in the opening match of the Hero I-League Phase II at Naihati Stadium, here on Friday.
Willis Plaza gave Aizawl FC an early lead that was doubled before halftime, courtesy of a Niraj Kumar own goal. Real Kashmir responded in the second half with two goals in three minutes from captain Mason Robertson. The winning goal came in the 69th minute when Plaza scored his second goal and Aizawl scored all three points.
The game got off to a bright start for Aizawl after Willis Plaza scored in the second minute of the game. The Trinidadian did well to get to the end of a cross from Vanlalnghenga, who had run down the left flank for the attack. The ball was perfect and Plaza only had to cushion it with his side foot towards the back of the net.
Minutes later, Real Kashmir had a chance to restore parity when Mason Robertson finished off a cross from the right flank. The Real Kashmir captain was completely unmarked, but his shot lacked accuracy and power and he was collected comfortably by goalkeeper Anuj Kumar.
Aizawl was on the attack again, this time on the right flank. A cross came from Lalmalsawma and this time Dipanda Dicka managed to head in but it went straight to the keeper. Robertson had another chance after brilliantly passing the ball over Lalmalsawma, but Anuj Kumar was at the end of a meek shot to collect it.
With ten minutes to go in the match, Samuel Kynshi brought down Lalmalsawma down the right flank. Captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia lobbed a deep, looping ball into the box which Ramhlunchhunga headed into the face of the goal. Willis Plaza headed in first and the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, hit the feet of a confused Niraj Kumar and rolled into the net.
The constant pressure paid off as Aizawl dominated the first half and went into half-time with a comfortable two-goal cushion. Real Kashmir tried to pull one back during the closing stages of the first half. Robertson again tried his luck with a free-kick, but Anuj Kumar was at full throttle to deny him.
David Robertson was desperate to turn things around and decided to make three substitutions at half time. Malem Meitei, Bikramjit Singh and Rohmingthanga Bawlte came on to replace Ragav Gupta, Samuel Kynshi and Bernard Kouassi.
The momentum was still with Aizawl in the opening stages of the first half. However, two quick goals from Real Kashmir changed the entire scenario of the game. Substitute Bikramjit Singh made his impact when he played a long ball into the Aizawl box as Robertson beat a charging Anuj Kumar to reach the ball first and then dribbled the ball into an empty net to open the Real Kashmir account.
Two minutes later, Robertson struck again. This time, Mason found himself facing the goal from a very sharp angle. However, he pierced it with his boot and the ball flew over Anuj Kumar and into the roof of the net, restoring parity out of nowhere.
Aizawl did not take his foot off the accelerator and continued to attack the Real Kashmir side to retake the lead in the match. Ten minutes after the equalizer, Aizawl’s steady attack paid off when Lalremsanga put a beautiful cross into the box and an unmarked Willis Plaza headed it in to score his second of the day and, more importantly, put his team ahead in the game again.
Frustration set in for Real Kashmir as they looked for a draw again. Towards the end of the game, a dangerous challenge from Rohmingthanga looked malicious, but the substitute was lucky to dodge a yellow or even red card for that tackle. In the end, Aizawl managed to hang on to his lead and walked away with all three points.