Pune: Already out of contention for a knock-out berth, Pune FC ended their AFC Cup campaign with a win over group leaders Kitchee SC of Hong Kong 2-0, their maiden victory on the continental stage, here on Tuesday.
Defender Zohmingliana Ralte's second half double strike (74th & 80th minute) handed Pune FC, who are playing in the AFC Cup for the first time this season, a win over the Group-H winners.
The three points earned took Pune FC's overall tally to six points but they remained fourth and last in the group behind Kitchee (13 points), Nay Pyi Taw (8) and Tampines Rovers (6).
With injuries and suspensions to deal with, coach Mike Snoei made four changes to the starting lineup at the Shree Shivchhatrapati Sports Complex, handing starts to Mirjan Pavlovic, Prakash Thorat, Dhanpal Ganesh and Salam Ranjan Singh.
In an equally fought opening quarter, it was Jorge Tarres who first went close for the visitors. However, the Spaniard's attempt from inside the box on the right ended in the side netting.
Pune FC kept on pushing ahead but were falling short of penetrating into the Kitchee box.
Pune FC first went close in the 22nd minute when Ralte's header off Anthony D'Souza went just over the horizontal. Five minutes later, left-back Gurjinder Kumar beat the offside trap on the left flank to set free only for his directionless cross to go wide.
At the other end, the Pune FC defense led by keeper Amrinder Singh held firm as the opponents kept on attacking the Pune FC goal.
Into the final five minutes of the half, Pune FC had a glorious chance to open scoring after Mirjan earned a freekick on the edge of the box. However, Anthony's dipping shot went inches over the horizontal.
Pune FC had Amrinder to thank once again after the young Punjabi blocked To Hon To's powerful shot after the winger got into the clear inside the box on the right. Moments later, Amrinder once again produced a save blocking Chan Man Fai's header from close range to keep the score goalless going into the breather.
Coach Mike Snoei made the first change bringing in winger Lester Fernandez in place of Prakash. The move made instant impact as Lester created a chance for Mirjan, but the Australian's header went agonisingly wide.
Kitchee almost took the lead but Chan Man Fai's effort from the edge of the box off Juan Belencoso's through ball came off the post.
Five minutes later, Amrinder once again pulled off a great save to keep the hosts in the game. Striker Belencoso controlled a cross inside the box and volleyed on the turn only for an outstretched Amrinder to deny him.
At the other end, Pune FC almost went ahead. Lester set up skipper Riga Mustapha on a counter but the Dutchman's effort from the edge of the box went into the sidenetting.
Minutes later, Lester's back-to-back chances from the edge of the box went over as Pune FC continued to push.
Pune FC dominance finally paid off as they took the lead in the 74th minute. Right-back Ralte's scored with thumping header at the far post on Anthony's corner kick in from the left.
The home side's celebrations were cut short as Kitchee were handed a lifeline a minute later at the other end. After Amrinder brought down Lam Ka Wai inside the box, the referee pointed to the spot. However, Amrinder made up for his mistake saving Belencoso's penalty kick and blocking the rebound form Tarres.
Charged up after Amrinder's moment of genius in the Pune FC goal, the home side began to attack and earned another corner in the 80th minute. Ralte once again headed home the corner at the far post taken by Lester on the left to complete his brace.