Former champions Aizawl FC huffed and puffed before beating Gokulam Kerala FC 3-2 in a high-scoring I-League match at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Mizoram on Saturday.
Ansumana Kormah opened the scoring on the 51st minute, before Mapuia and Rochhar Zela added two more on the 63rd and 70th minutes.
Gokulam mounted a late fightback deep into the added time, when Joel Sunday scored twice in the last two minutes of injury time, one from open play, and the other from the penalty spot. However, it was too little too late for the visitors in the end.
Aizawl FC head coach Gift Raikhan made five changes to his starting XI from the previous match against Indian Arrows. Lalhriatrenga, Vanlalduata, Paul Ramfangzaua, Lalramhmunmawia and Lalrinfela Fanaia made way for Rochharzela and Govin Singh and the new trio of Lalrinchhana, Lalrosanga, Vanlalthanga.
Gokulam head coach Bino George also made attacking changes as Pritam Singh, Mudde Musa, Jayaraj and Suhair replaced Mirza, J Balakrishnan, Christian Sabah and Joel Sunday from their defeat against Indian Arrows.
With both teams winless in their last three games, their respective coaches took a cautious approach to the game with few chances coming in the first half.
The home side had the first goal-scoring chance of the match as Chhara from the right flank sent in a delightful cross but Mapuia could not guide the ball towards goal as his header flew just wide of the post.
Gokulam found it hard to stamp their authority in the match as Raikhan's boys pressed high. Left-back Vanlalthanga, who was playing his first match in the I-League, had a thunderous shot from 35 yards out but was unlucky as Kunniyal parried it above the crossbar.
The Kerala side attacked from the left wing with Jayaraj proving a handful for the new boy Lalrosanga. Musa and Suhair VP linked well for the away side but could not test Aizawl goalkeeper Lalawmpuia.
Liberian forward Kromah had the best chance in the first half. Chhara bamboozled Gokulam left-back Dimple Bhagat and sent a low cross to Kromah, who was free in the six-yard box, but the striker could not connect his shot as it was easily cleared by the Gokulam defenders.
Gokulam coach Bino Geroge made a tactical substitution at the start of the second half, putting forward Rajesh in place of midfielder Rashid. The Kerala attacker could hardly settle down when Aizawl scored the first goal in the 51st minute through Ansumana Kromah.
Left-back Vanlalthanga's clearance was not dealt with by the Gokulam defenders as Kromah slipped from the defenders to coolly slot the ball to the back of the net.
Aizawl's second goal resulted from an assist by Rinchhana. The diminutive midfielder's defense-splitting pass to Mapuia was converted calmly by the striker.
Gokulam could not find a way against the former champions as Alfred anchored the midfield, leaving room to Rinchhana to play freely.
Aizawl ran riot against the Kerala side as Chhara scored the third goal of the match in the 70th minute. The winger from the Aizawl academy toyed with Gokulam defenders before he put the ball past Kunniyil.
The home fans had started to leave the stadium to beat the traffic when Gokulam had a late fightback, scoring two goals in added time. Joel Sunday redeemed himself by scoring in the 93rd minute after missing a golden chance for his side a minute prior to his first goal.
Aizawl defenders were left scratching their heads when Hmingthanmawia was flagged handball in the dying minutes of the game with referee Raktim Saha pointing to the spot. Joel Sunday stepped up to send Lalawmpuia the wrong side of the goal, before the referee blew the final whistle seconds after that.
Aizawl now have nine points from 10 matches to occupy the ninth place in the league table.
Gokulam are now winless in their last four matches, collecting 10 points from as many games. They are now at eighth spot.