Aizawl FC on Sunday earned a well-deserved 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong FC to create history by becoming the first club from the north-east to win the I-League title.
Lajong had taken the early lead when centre-forward Asier Pierrick Dipanda slammed home a header in the ninth minute.
That complicated things for the visitors as they needed at least a draw to win the title.
But Aizawl recovered from the setback to dominate the game thereafter.
Despite some stout defending by the hosts, William Lalnunfela finally made sure that Aizawl won the title when he found the equaliser in the 67th minute.
Going into Sunday’s game, Aizawl were leading the 10-team I-League table with 37 points from 17 matches, three ahead of second-placed Mohun Bagan and needed at least a draw to clinch their maiden title.
They capped off their fairy tale run to the title by finishing with a tally of 37 points from their full quota of 18 matches.
Mohun Bagan, who have breathed down Aizawl’s neck throughout the season and had even topped the table for sometime, finished second with 36 points.
Lajong finished fifth with 26 points.
Aizawl dominated proceedings right from the start with their Ivory Coast centre-forward Bayi Kamo proving to be a handful for the Lajong defenders with his pace and sheer physical strength.
The hosts took the early lead against the run of play when a bout of quick passing between Samuel Lalmuanpuia and Redeem Tlang released the latter down the left flank.
Tlang made a speedy run, beating his marker with his pace, before firing in an accurate cross into the six-yard box and Dipanda’s subsequent header hit the underside of the crossbar before entering the Aizawl goal.
This was Dipanda’s 10th goal of the competition and the 31-year-old former Valencia B striker finished as the top scorer of this year’s I-League.
Despite the setback, Aizawl continued to dominate and created chances at regular intervals. Only some gritty defending by the Lajong players prevented the visitors from finding the back of the net before half-time.
Kamo was unlucky not to score in the 36th minute when he produced a back heel when he came up with a back heel when ball fell to him following a corner. But Tlang was on hand to block the ball on the goalline with Lajong goalkeeper Vishal Kaith out of position.
Aizawl continued to dominate after the break and Lalnunfela thought he had restored parity when he bulged the net with a header in the 60th minute. But the goal was ruled out due to off-side which premature end to the celebrations by the Aizawl players and officials on the sidelines.
But Lalnunfela did not have to wait too long to find his name on the score sheet as he slammed home a rebound from close range after a free-kick had come off the Lajong goalpost.
Lajong pressed hard for a goal in the closing stages but could not find success despite several near misses as Aizawl held on to create history.