Churchill Brothers pulled off a shock 2-1 victory against table-toppers Minerva Punjab at the Tilak Maidan Ground in Goa on Friday. Goals from Koffi Mechac (17' P) and Wayne Vaz (45') were enough for the hosts as Chencho Gyeltshen wasted a spot-kick to equalize after Kassim Aidara (57') found the net around the hour-mark.
Head coach of Minerva Punjab Khogen Singh did not hide his anger as the referee Akash Jackson Routh did not award a penalty to Minerva when Osagie Monday slid in with a two-footed challenge inside the box on William Opoku. Minutes later the Goan side was rewarded with a penalty when Sukhdev Singh tackled Mechak Koffi inside the box.
"I don't think the referees are fit to officiate in the I-League. I say that because I was also a player. The referee (Akash Jackson Routh) spoiled the game. I don't want to say anything about the penalty but the whole 90 minutes. Football development is about the referees also. Player mentality also changes," expressed Singh.
Immediately after the outburst, Khogen Singh mellowed down a bit with the fear of getting sanctioned for commenting against the referee.
"I know that the referees are also human beings but they have to understand their profession and (that) because of their decisions the matches turn off," stated Khogen.
The coach blamed lack of concentration for the defeat and at the same time said that three more wins could be enough for them to secure the title.
"We played good, but perhaps a lapse of concentration because of which we (Chencho Gyeltshen) could not convert the penalty also."
"All the matches will be crucial. We need at least three wins to secure the title. I hope we take advantage of playing five continuous matches at home," opined Khogen.
Kassim Aidara who accompanied Khogen in the post-match press conference also resonated the same thoughts of his coach.
"We tried everything. We were fighting. Of course, Churchill Brothers is now a set team but the referee (Akash Jackson Routh) killed us in the first half only. You cannot play against 14 men. We have to look at our performance also. We have strange decisions against us in almost every game but today the performance of the referee was too low. We tried our best and every loss is a lesson," said the Minerva Punjab skipper.
On the other hand, Churchill Brothers coach Alfred Fernandes was ecstatic after registering a win against an in-form Minerva Punjab.
"As I said yesterday also, I promised to take the challenge to Minerva (Punjab) with the help of my players and the promise is delivered. Three points on the table make a lot of difference for the confidence of the team (Churchill Brothers) and the standing because we lost the last match. I could say that they (NEROCA FC) did not win the last match but we lost it," said Fernandes.
The Goan coach is aiming for a top-four finish after producing a string of positive results in the last couple of weeks.
"We are now targeting to finish in the first four. That is our realistic target. It can be third or second also with the team I have now and with more number of matches in hand. Most of our remaining matches are at home, which is an advantage," stated Fernandes.
The former youth development coach at Churchill believes that the team has learnt a lesson from last year and the fresh group of foreigners will only help them escalate in the league table.
"We had the same course of struggles last season also where we lost around four (matches) on the trot. Last year, we did not have the foreign players. This year we had a lot of time. We were in the process of bringing foreign players from August (2017) but had problems with the visas. By the time we were waiting for these players, the paperwork took a lot of time which left us in a helpless position at the time. Hopefully, this will not happen again," assured the coach.
Wayne Vaz was a relieved man after he gave away a penalty to Minerva but Chencho hit the spot-kick wide.
"We respect Minerva (Punjab). They were putting pressure on us at the start of the second half. The penalty was when I went to head the ball and he (Kassim Aidara) headed to my hand. I was relieved when Chencho (Gyeltshen) put it out. I knew that we would dominate from there on and we emerged winners," concluded Vaz.
Churchill Brothers are expected to lodge a complaint against Kassim Aidara for allegedly breaking the door handle of the dressing room, as confirmed by the Goan club's media manager Jovito Lopez.