Minerva Punjab FC beat NEROCA FC 1-0 in a crucial I-League encounter on Saturday afternoon in Imphal to take a step closer to the I-League title. Chencho Gyeltshen scored the only goal of the match in the second minute to seal a crucial win for the Warriors.
Gift Raikhan made four changes in the NEROCA starting line-up which went down 0-2 against Shillong Lajong in their previous game. Bishorjit Singh replaced Shambhu Mistry under the bar who had a terrible outing against Lajong. The other three changes were Govin Singh, Yumnam Gopi Singh and Israilov Akhlidin in place of Ashok Singh, Ronald Singh and Nedo Turkovic.
Minerva coach Khogen Singh too made three changes with new signing Nepalese goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong replacing Rakshit Dagar, Gagandeep Bali and Altamash Sayed coming in for Moinuddin Khan and Lago Dagbo Bei.
Khogen’s men took an attacking approach right from the beginning. Bali Gagandeep led the side’s attack from the front with Chencho and William Opoku on the flanks. Sayed operated just behind the forward in the number 10 role.
Title favourites Minerva started the game with a bang as their star player Chencho Gyeltshen netted the opening goal as early as in the second minute. The move started with a long throw-in from Sukhdev Singh which was laid off by Gagandeep Bali for Chencho. The ‘Bhutanese Ronaldo’ stretched to convert a brilliant volley.
For NEROCA, Israilov operated behind striker Felix Chidi with Subhash Singh and Gopi Singh on the flanks. Unfortunately, the Kyrgyzstan attacking midfielder had a very poor outing and was substituted in the 25th minute by Pritam Singh.
The home side tried hard to break the Minerva defence but they lacked the firepower in the attacking third. This forced Raikhan to make his second substitution in the first half itself. Saran Singh, who is predominantly a right-back, made his way to the field to replace Gopi Singh on the right flank.
Minerva looked comfortable in the second half. They focused more on defensive organisation and only went forward on counter attacks. Kassim Aidara and Amandeep Singh did a fine job in keeping a firm check on NEROCA’s midfield activities.
A desperate Raikhan finally brought in Nedo Turkovic in place of Govin Singh to bolster the attack. Saran Singh went back to his natural position replacing Govin Singh and Nedo operated on the right flank.
The Bosnian attacker had an instant impact in the game as his first touch of the ball was a through-ball for Felix Chidi but the striker failed to get at the end of it.
As the game progressed, the home side showed more urgency and attacked in numbers. Chidi missed the easiest chance to equalise for his side in the 90th minute when he entered the box from the right side. He had no one but Kiran in front of the goal but his shot went wide.
Minerva, with today’s win, take a step further towards winning the I-League this season. They now have 25 points from 10 matches while NEROCA remain in the second position with 21 points from 12 outings.