Minerva Punjab claimed the I-League 2017-18 title after defeating Churchill Brothers 1-0 at home on Thursday. Minerva became the first side from Punjab after JCT Phagwara to win India's national football title after William Opoku's 15th-minute strike was enough to ensure they would finish as top dogs, ahead of NEROCA FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
Minerva coach Khogen Singh made just the one change to the Minerva lineup which lost 2-1 to Chennai City. In came Girik Khosla for Souvik Das while star winger Chencho Gyeltshen and William Opoku kept their places understandably.
Churchill Brothers coach Alfred Fernandes made three changes to his team that lost to Mohun Bagan in the previous game. Ricardo Cardozo was deployed between the sticks while Visalie Mezhu and former East Bengal striker Willis Plaza also came into the starting XI.
The match got off to a feisty but sloppy start with both teams giving away possession cheaply. But Mineva soon took charge of the game and Akash Sangwan saw a left-footed half-volley parried away by Ricardo Cardozo in the 13th minute.
Two minutes later, Minerva surged into the lead, capitalising on a nervous Churchill defence. After Monday Osagie missed a clearance altogether, Chencho made his way into the box down the right hand side and saw his shot spilled by the Churchill goalkeeper Cardozo. Sangwan followed up but saw his effort deflected to William Opoku who tucked it home from point-blank range.
Churchill Brothers, finding the going very hard in attack, took off Visalie Mezhu and sent on Jovel Martins. But Minerva continued to dominate proceedings and Chencho saw a shot saved by Cardozo before William Opoku went close just before half-time.
William won the ball from Plaza before feeding Khosla out wide on the left. He collected the return ball in his stride before easing past Monday Osagie into the area. But his eventual shot was blocked by Cardozo as score remained 1-0 in Minerva’s favour at the break.
After the break, Churchill came out of the blocks with more intent and forced Kiran Limbu into action. Dawda Ceesay saw a long-range effort saved by the Nepali goalkeeper before he found some space on the edge of the area around the 60th minute. But his left-footed shot sailed just over.
Minerva were left hanging at times as Willis Plaza and Dawda Ceesay began to impose themselves. In the 65th minute, Plaza slipped Jovel Martins through on goal but his effort was parried by Limbu.
The best chance for Churchill to pull a goal back came in the 74th minute when centre-back Eldor headed over from a corner from close range.
But the Warriors held on resolutely to keep Churchill at bay to land all three points and win the I-League title, sparking jubilant celebrations in Panchkula.