Minerva Punjab FC climbed back into the top of the I-League after beating defending champions Aizawl FC in a hugely important 2-0 victory at Panchkula on Monday. Akash Sangwan (51’) gave the home side the lead before Armand Bazie secured all three points with a goal in injury-time (90+6’).
Khogen Singh made just the one change to the XI which started in the loss to Gokulam FC with Amandeep Singh coming in for Randeep Singh in midfield. Gagandeep Bali started as the lone striker up top, supported by Chencho Gyeltshen, William Opoku and Akashdeep Singh.
Santosh Kashyap on the other hand, made no changes to the starting XI which beat Indian Arrows by 3-0 in their last match. Lalkhawpuimawia and Leonce Dodoz continued to be paired up front with Andrei Ionescu slotting in behind them in a playmaking position.
Chencho was in the thick of things from the start as the hosts started with intent and had the first real effort in the 11th minute. The Bhutanese attacker received a pass from Amandeep before leaving three defenders for dead with a great first touch. However, his shot went wide of the left post.
Sukhdeep Singh’s long throw-ins were creating some headaches for the Aizawl defence as the visitors were put under pressure. Mid-way through the first period, Opoku sent in a great ball across the face of goal but Chencho failed to connect with an outstretched left foot. A minute later, it was Opoku on the receiving end of a delicious cross from Kamalpreet Singh but he failed to direct his header on target despite being unmarked.
The visitors had their first chance towards the half-hour mark when Lalthathanga Khawlhring’s cross was brought down excellently by Lalkhawpuimawia in the box and his hurried shot went just wide of the Minerva goal.
Chencho then leapt well to get his head to a cross but it was straight at Avilash Paul. At the other end, Ionescu came mighty close with a long-range effort but his shot lacked enough curl to creep in inside the post.
Towards half-time, both sides had decent chances to go ahead. First, Bali set up Chencho perfectly with a nice layoff but the Bhutanese’s effort lacked power and precision. Then, Minerva custodian Kiran Limbu made a hash of Fanai’s free-kick, spilling the ball while attempting to collect it. He did well to recover though after Lalkhawpuimawia attempted an overhead kick from the spill.
The hosts’ pressure would finally pay off in the second period with Akash Sangawan getting his name on the score-sheet. After being set up by Opoku, Chencho delivered a nice cross into the box which Sangwan met with his left foot. Avilash Paul saved the first effort but could do nothing when Sangwan nodded in the rebound into an empty net.
The home side remained on the front-foot despite going ahead as Aizawl found it difficult to create clear cut chances. Ionescu came close to scoring with a nice shot but Sukhdev put in a great block to see the ball out for a corner.
Towards the dying minutes as the visitors pushed for an equalizer, Lalkhawpuimawia put in a great cross in a dangerous area inside the box but the Minerva defence once again did well to see it out for a corner.
Substitute Armand Bazie secured the victory in the sixth minute of added time after a free-kick from Kamalpreet was flicked onto his path by Opoku and he made no mistake in putting the ball into an empty net with Avilash Paul nowhere in the picture.
The win leaves Minerva with 32 points after their 16 games and helps them leapfrog East Bengal and NEROCA FC to the top of the table. The defending champions on the other hand, remain in sixth spot with 21 points.