First-half goals from Chencho Gyeltshen and Lago Bei sealed a 2-1 comeback win for Minerva Punjab against newly promoted Neroca FC in their I-League match at the Guru Nanak Stadium on Friday.
Neroca broke the deadlock through Odili Chidi but the home side stood firm to claw their way back into a game bereft of efficient finishing.
Wangkhem Singh opted to field a strong lineup against the newcomers. Chencho Gyeltshen, popularly known as the 'Ronaldo of Bhutan', featured on the left flank for the home side with Lago Bei leading the line.
Odili Chidi started upfront for Neroca, with Israilov and Fabien Vorbe pairing up in midfield and Williams shielding the defence. Lalit Thapa was on duty in between the sticks.
Neroca shrugged off any early nerves when midfielder Aryn Williams rushed into the box to connect with a cross curled in from the left by Singam Singh. The newly promoted club held firm against a promising Minerva side in the early stages and was able to dominate possession for large periods of the first half.
Minerva's right flank proved to be an early source of joy for the visitors but their lopsided attacks left Chencho free at the other end on the left. The Minerva No.7, on one such unmarked forays forward in the first half, cut in and forced skipper Lalit Thapa onto a quick reflex save.
Neroca's dominance in possession finally resulted in the breaking of the deadlock in the 18th minute. A neat through-ball from midfield was picked up by striker Odili Chidi and immediately directed it towards a surprised Arshdeep Singh who looked like he wasn't expecting a shot.
The Punjab-based side did not have to wait too long for an equaliser. The danger-man Chencho picked up the ball from midfield and ran through the left flank before cutting in and striking a powerful shot on goal that left the goalkeeper with no chance.
The home side completed a deserving comeback in the dying minutes of the first half. Chencho sent Abhishek Ambedkar on a surging overlap through the left flank and the full-back picked out Lago Bei in the centre. The striker's powerful shot hit the net to make it 2-1 for Minerva Punjab.
Shots kept coming in at both ends of the pitch but there was a striking lack of finishing touch to the moves, resulting in profligacy.
Chencho Gyeltshen had another chance to double Minerva's lead as the match moved into its final quarter when his pace helped him get the better of Govin Singh and surge into the box. The Bhutanese winger's curled effort beat the goalkeeper but sailed inches wide of the far post.
Lago wasted an opportunity to grab a brace when he got through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat as the clock ticked towards full-time. The tired striker sent a weak shot past the goalpost, leaving the goalkeeper untroubled.