Vasco: Koffi Mechac and Wayne Vaz’s first-half goals kept the I-League battle alive as Churchill shocked Minerva Punjab 2-1 at the Tilak Maidan here on Friday.
Kassim Aidara had pulled Minerva back into the contest with a stunner in the 57th minute but Chencho Gyeltshen’s costly miss from the spot ensured the ‘Red Machines’ no hiccups as they sailed to victory, their third at home this season.
The win lifted them to seventh on 13 points after 11 games but Minerva Punjab remained at the top with 26 points from 12 matches, their lead cut short to just two ahead of Neroca, who have played a game more.
Churchill who have looked a completely different side at the turn of 2018, with just one defeat in five matches, including three successive victories — two of which were at home — could have conceded an early goal after defender Osagie Monday brought down William Opoku, lunging into him with both legs inside the box, but were lucky enough as the referee overlooked the incident.
Koffi then put the hosts ahead from the spot after referee Akash Jackson awarded a penalty when Sukhdev Singh pulled back Dawada Ceesay. Koffi stood up and send goalkeeper the wrong way to give Churchill the lead as early as the 16th minute.
But the Chandigarh based club soon threatened back forcing Churchill goalkeeper James Kithan into multiple saves. Gyeltshen’s shot from outside the 12 yard box nearly went in but Kithan parried it away. Minerva even close from a direct free-kick but while the custodian kept Churchill in the game, Vaz scored a second on the opposite end.
Trailing by one goal, the visitors put more men up-front attacking with high intensity which allowed the ‘Red Machines’ to score from a quick counter that had Dawda Ceesay lay on the ball for Vaz, whose cross caught custodian Kiran Limbu napping. It went over his head and into the net as the stadium broke into raptures.
Chasing their maiden title and almost close to it, Minerva was not going down without a fight. They came back stronger and hard in the second-half pulling one back 12 minutes after restart. A series of passes broke open the Churchill defence who resorted to tackles giving away a chip foul just outside the box.
Touted to be Bhutan’s Ronaldo, Gyeltshen stood up and floated the ball into the box, which found captain Aidara who blasted the ball home from close range. The goal seemed to have spurred Minerva back into the match, who grew more in confidence.
With pressure mounting up on them, Churchill soon conceded a penalty in the 61st minute when goal-scorer Wayne Vaz handled the ball inside the box from a Kamalpreet Singh cross.
The referee didn’t hesitate and pointed to the spot but then just when Minerva had sensed an equaliser, Gyeltshen shot wide much to the dismay of the away fans.
They did go all-out in the dying stages often leaving their back vulnerable which could have hurt them more. But both Koffi and Ceesay missed glaring chances. It didn’t matter though in the end as Churchill came home with all three points.