A first-half goal by Bali Gagandeep was enough for Minerva Punjab to overcome Gokulam Kerala in their I-League fixture at the EMS Stadium in Calicut on Saturday. The result takes Minerva to the second position in the table behind East Bengal, with a game in hand.
New signing Odafa Okolie started upfront for Bino George's side, with youngster Kivi Zhimomi playing off the striker in a 4-2-3-1. Metei played on the right while full-back Mohamed Salah was asked to play further forward as a left winger.
Khogen Singh made just one change from their last game, replacing Girik Khosla with Moinuddin in the No.10 role. William Asiedu continued upfront for the visitors, with star winger Chencho Gyeltshen operating on the left flank.
Gokulam Kerala pounced on a sluggish start to the game by the Punjab-based side to threaten in the second minute of the game. Salah's cross was met by Vicky Meitei who forced Rakshit Dagar to a good save.
Minerva responded to Gokulam's early threat by going one step ahead and hitting the net in the 18th minute. Chencho Gyeltshen accelerated past Balwinder Singh on the left flank before putting the ball on a plate for Gagandeep to score from inside the box.
Chencho threatened to turn provider again, as he delivered an accurate cross into the path of William Asiedu from a free-kick outside the box. The Ghanaian striker failed to get the ball past Bilal as Gokulam escaped punishment for a loss of focus during the set-piece.
I-League legend Odafa Okolie was brought in to convert chances in front of goal for the Malabarians but he missed a golden opportunity to equalise as the game moved towards half-time. He failed to head the ball in when Kivi Zhimomi sent the ball across goal in the 38th minute. The home side had plenty of shots of which only three were on target and none of those troubled Rakshit Dagar in goal.
Gokulam lost Kivi Zhimomi to an injury early in the second half, forcing Bino George to throw Usman Ashik into the equation. The forced change did nothing to help Kerala's luck in the game as they continued to be wasteful in the attacking third.
Chencho Gyeltshen was relatively quiet throughout the game but he hit the post following a one-on-one scenario with Bilal at the hour-mark. The Gokulam backline stepped up at the right time to trap Chencho offside.
Minerva spurned a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the 80th minute when Chigozie's weak back-pass towards Bilal was intercepted well by substitute Lago Bei. The Ivorian forward squared the ball to Chencho whose shot failed to find the inside of the net. In added time, Chencho returned the favour by squaring pass to Lago Bei but the striker could only beat the goalkeeper and not the crossbar.
The visitors held onto the ball in the dying stages of the game to prevent a late turnaround and managed to pick up all three points at the end of ninety minutes.