Minerva Punjab FC recorded a win in their first ever match at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula after overcoming a spirited Shillong Lajong FC by 3-2 in an I-League clash. Guy Dano (6’) and Gangandeep Bali (45+2’ and 81’) scored for the hosts while Daniel Odafin (60’) and Lawrence Doe (64’) got their names on the scoresheet for the visitors.
Khogen Singh deployed the home side in 4-2-3-1 formation with former East Bengal midfielder Armand Bazie being given a start. Guy Dano and Sukhdev Singh continued to form the heart of the defence while Gagandeep Bali was chosen to lead the line with Chencho Gyeltshen playing from the right flank.
The visitors lined up the visitors in a traditional 4-4-2 with Saihou Jagne and Abdoulaye Koffi designated as the two strikers. Daniel Odafin slotted behind the pair while Samuel Lalmuanpuia and F. Lalrohlua provided the width from either flanks.
The home side went ahead as early as the fifth minute of the game through a long throw-in by Sukhdev. Chencho flicked on the throw-in into Dano’s path and the central defender produced an excellent half volley to give Minerva the lead.
Chencho could have doubled the hosts’ advantage a few minutes later after a lovely square ball by Bali but the Bhutanese could not find the back of the net. Meanwhile, Sukhdev’s long throw was causing all sorts of problems in the Lajong box and Lawrence Doe almost turned one of them into his own net but custodian Phurba Lachpenpa was on hand to rescue the situation.
It was Khogen’s men who continued to be the more threatening of the two sides with the visitors finding little joy. Minerva doubled their lead at the stroke of half-time with a goal from Bali. After Odafin had stopped Bazie in his tracks, Aidara picked up the loose ball in midfield before feeding Chencho on the right.
The Bhutanese produced a brilliant cross back into the box and all Bali had to do was simply tap the ball into an empty net.
Koffi had a chance to get Lajong back into the game minutes into the second period but the striker squandered the opportunity. However, the midfielder would make no such mistake at the hour mark after Bazie had put in a great block in the Minerva box. The rebound fell to Odafin at the edge of the box and he released a powerful shot which clipped the right post before bouncing in.
It would be all square four minutes later after an excellent finish from Lawrence Doe. Samuel Lalmuanpuia floated in a free-kick from almost the half-way line and Doe’s looping header had the beating of Minerva custodian Rakshit Dagar.
Chencho then set up William Opoku with a perfect cross to the far post but the midfielder failed to direct his free-header on the target. The hosts would ultimately regain their lead in the 81st minute. Ambedkar Singh’s found Opoku who backheeled the ball towards the edge of the Lajong box where Bali latched on to the loose ball and applied a sweet left-footed finish which sneaked under a diving Lachpenpa.
The visitors threw everything at the Minerva defence in the dying minutes in search of the equalizer and there was a dramatic moment right towards the end of the match. After dribbling inside the box, Samuel floated a cross to which both Dagar and Koffi challenged for before the latter directed the ball into the net. Much to the dismay of Lajong’s players, the referee blew his whistle for a foul on Dagar.
The hosts withstood the visitors’ charge in the dying minutes to cap off a vital victory and move back to the top of the I-League table above NEROCA FC.