By Our Reporter
SHILLONG: In what was easily the best of the four matches of the fourth Dr T Ao Memorial Football Tournament thus far, defending champions Mizoram came from 1-3 down to beat Sikkim 4-3 at the JN Stadium, Polo, on Tuesday.
Although there was by no means a full house, the crowd that did gather for the second match of Group B were vocal in their support.
Mizoram’s fans were in the majority and they made their presence felt with passionate cheering.
It was a fast-paced match between two of the smallest North Eastern states and Sikkim got the ball rolling by scoring on the first minute.
Mizoram started haphazardly, with Sikkim scoring through Tshering Zangpo Tamang when he took the ball easily off a Mizoram defender and put it into the net.
Sikkim then had a further chance almost immediately, but the ball was shot wide.
The Mizoram team then started to look a little more composed and began to attack more vigorously.
They put the Sikkim keeper Nim Tenzing Lepcha under pressure a number of times but couldn’t get the ball past him until the 28th minute.
Lalbiakhula received a lofted ball while unmarked. In the box, he kicked the ball to the right of the keeper and it hit the upright before going into the net.
After claiming the equaliser, Mizoram would have wanted to turn the match in their favour, but Tamang put paid to that with his second goal just four minutes later.
Having gotten past his marker, he neatly dabbed the ball from outside the box past the custodian J Van Lalhriata.
Mizoram had two more good chances towards the end of the first half but couldn’t convert.
After the break, Mizoram pushed for the equaliser, with the bulk of the opportunities coming their way, but they couldn’t make them count. Desperate defending by Sikkim, especially by their keeper, was what kept them at bay.
Sikkim made things worse for their opponents with another goal to take them to 3-1 in the 58th minute. A handball gifted them a free kick from 12 yards out of the box. Skipper Milan Lepcha came up to take the shot and accurately fired it in.
Credit, however, went to Mizoram for never giving up.
In the 71st minute they reduced the margin with a goal from Lalbiakhula.
Good passing between the players outfoxed the Sikkim defence and as the keeper was drawn forward, the ball was passed to Lalbiakhula, who scored.
Buoyed by that goal, Mizoram rarely conceded too much possession to the opposition.
In the 79th minute Lalbiakhula took the ball up the right flank and passed it along the ground across the face of the goal for Lalnunmawia to ease it into the back of the net.
Mizoram’s fans were on their feet for the last few minutes and they celebrated raucously two minutes from normal time after a quick throw-in caught Sikkim’s defence unawares and Lalnunmawia headed the ball in to make it 4-3.
Despite the loss, Sikkim impressed in how they attacked and seized their chances. They appeared a little tired towards the end, as they had to defend against the remorseless Mizoram attack.