I-League 2018-19: Defending champions Minerva Punjab held by sturdy Churchill Brothers
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Minerva Punjab failed to pick up full three points in their season opener against Churchill Brothers...

Defending champions Minerva Punjab had a stuttering start to their league campaign as they were held to a goalless draw by Churchill Brothers at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula on Sunday. 

Chances were scanty for both sides as the two teams kept things tight at the back. The match came to life only during the dying embers but a fantastic save from Minerva goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy kept the score unchanged. 

Minerva head coach Sachin Badhade fielded his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Akashdeep Singh, Arashpreet Singh, Lancine Toure and Souvik Das formed the four-man backline with Philip Njoku and Amandeep Singh as the two holding midfielders. Former Mohun Bagan striker Manandeep Singh lead the line. 

On the other hand, Petre Gigiu stuck with James Kithan under the sticks. Dawda Ceesay was given the license to roam about freely in the attacking third. Willis Plaza was the target man for Churchill. 

It was a cagey opening 45 minutes with both teams locked in an intense midfield battle. Churchill looked the more dominant side in the initial 15 minutes as Ceesay was dictating terms in the attack. 

But Minerva slowly and steadily grew into the game. They mostly relied on long balls targeting Manandeep upfront but Eldor and Novakovic had the aerial superiority over the Indian striker. Nongdomba Naorem was a livewire for Minerva on the wings as he showed excellent technique and control to squeeze past defenders. 

Ceesay Minerva Punjab vs Churchill Brothers

The only significant chance fell for Plaza in the 21st minute but a timely finger-tip intervention from  Roy averted the danger. Plaza, played through by Hangshing, did well to skip past his marker but Roy sensed danger and came out of his line to thwart Plaza. 

The second half started on the same note as neither team could find a significant opening to trouble the keepers. 

In the 64th minute, Njoku was perfectly set up by Souvik from the right.  The Nigerian had enough time to hit the target but he instead ballooned it over the crossbar. 

Minerva Punjab vs Churchill Brothers Lancine Toure

Churchill could have taken the lead right on the 90th-minute mark but Roy made another excellent save to earn a point for his team. Mohanraj put in a looping delivery from the left and Uttam Rai had skipped his marker to get a shot on target but Roy was equal to the task. 

Minerva Punjab will now look to register their first win when they take on Real Kashmir at home on October 31 whereas Churchill Brothers have a long journey down south to Coimbatore to take on Chennai City FC on November 1. 

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