Aizawl’s run to the title was filled with memorable incidents and matches. They played 18 games, out of which they won 11 and lost only three, drawing the remaining four matches.

They won their first ever I-League on the back of some stupendous performances, and there were some shabby ones as well. They had some close brushes with victories, losses and draws but they got their point in Shillong to become the first team from the Northeast to win the I-League.

Which were the pivotal moments that catapulted or halted Aizawl’s charge to the title, though?

Khalid and his Mumbai boys return to the Cooperage

Aizawl fought a long, hard battle to get to the championship but one can argue that the win at the Cooperage was one of their most important.

Khalid Jamil, Ashutosh Mehta and Jayesh Rane were returning to the club that they had called home for a cumulative total of 16 seasons. Mumbai were still not the shambolic mess that they would become till the end of the season, and had actually won their first two outings.

The champions would secure their first away victory of the season at the Cooperage. It would be that man, Mahmoud Al Amna who stunned Laxmikant Kattimani and the Yellow Brigade with a well-taken strike 11 minutes from time.

The visitors had dominated the whole game and could very well have had nothing to show of it if Al Amna late strike hadn’t gone in. But they didn’t, and Jamil celebrated his homecoming with a vital three points.

East Bengal feel the heat (chill?) in Aizawl

Aizawl had beaten the big boys before, Bagan had been waylaid in the previous season but this felt different. This was essentially a one versus three clash going into the match, as Willis Plaza, Wedson Anselme and Co had started the league at a blistering pace.

It was Anselme who almost gave the Lal Holud an early lead when he smashed one beyond the reach of Albino Gomes and onto the crossbar. Al Amna almost chipped EB keeper TP Rehenesh only for Ivan Bukenya to clear it off the line.

It was Laldanmawia’s first goal of the season that gave Aizawl the victory when he one-touch finished off Jayesh Rane’s excellent delivery to give his side the lead. Danmawia was excellent in this game and he had run Narayan Das ragged on the EB’s left flank. They became Aizawl’s first Kolkata scalp but not their last.

Chhetri and Khalid clash in Bengaluru

Aizawl were league leaders by now and had the chance to further inflate their advantage prior to the crucial Kolkata derby of Gameweek 15. Both Bagan and East Bengal were hot on their heels as Jamil’s team knew that a loss could let one or both of the Kolkata clubs back into the title race.

Bengaluru were the only team that Aizawl failed to beat on home turf and they weren’t lucky in the return leg either. Jamil and the West Block Blues have never had a cordial relationship and the ex-Mumbai coach got into a touchline spat with Sunil Chhetri this time, to the ire of the home support.

Chhetri also saw a shot ruled out for offside and Jamil’s irritation merely rose with Danmawia clean through on goal but pulled back due to a poor offside decision. The BFC skipper had the last laugh when his free-kick found Marjan Jugovic who netted in the last minute to break Aizawl hearts.

The loss also meant that they had lost the initiative in the title race and that Bagan could capitalise with a win over their fierce rivals later. Bagan obliged. But it was only a matter of time.

The greatest point of them all

Coming into this match, Aizawl only needed a point to become champions which they duly earned in Shillong. A spectre of suspicion loomed over this match as the referee and Shillong Lajong were both under the scanner in the final round of matches.

Shillong blew away any theories, that they might comply with their North-Eastern neighbours to hand them the title, by taking an early lead. Having come this far, Jamil knew that if Aizawl lost the match and Bagan won at Chennai City, they would finish as bridesmaids.

Aizawl’s worst fears came true when Bagan came from behind to take a lead against Chennai City but by then they had grabbed an equaliser and were holding on for dear life. The league’s eventual top scorer, Asier Dipanda Dicka had already scored once on the night and was looking for another but was to be denied in a nerve-wracking finale as Aizawl held on for a memorable triumph. Yet, this was not the most crucial moment of them all.

Bagan vanquished and Aizawl finally believe

With Aizawl’s loss in Bengaluru and Bagan’s scintillating form post the international break, the highlanders simply had to beat the Kolkata giants for any shot at the title whatsoever. Their 2-3 loss to Bagan at Kolkata meant that the Green-and-Maroons were ahead on a head-to-head basis although level on points and only a win would suffice.

Aizawl started nervously as Sony Norde’s glorious through ball put Scotsman Darryl Duffy one-on-one with Albino as early as the third minute. Gomes would heroically stop Duffy’s shot from going in as fog engulfed the stadium.

The match saw an unlikely hero emerge as an unmarked Zohmingliana “Zotea” Ralte headed in Mahmoud Al-Amna’s corner with Debjit Majumder off his line. The Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Maulpui erupted as Aizawl sneaked ahead of Bagan for the last turn in the title race. They would see it through to the finish.