Imphal: Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen’s third minute goal separated the two sides as Minerva Punjab edged past hosts Neroca FC 1-0 at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium here on Saturday.
For a third successive time did Neroca go behind in the opening few minutes, but failed to bounce back in the last two eventually that helped Minerva not only to complete a double victory over the debutants and move close to their maiden league title, four points clear at the top, but also jeopardised the Imphal side’s title aspirations after what has been a out-expected performance from the young team.
The club from Chandigarh stands on 25 points from 10 matches, while Neroca remained second with 21 from two more games.
Both sides made enough changes to the teams, a combined seven that ensured that the match took some time to get going but Minerva struck early from a chencho’s volley that send the 17,000 odd crowd into a delirium.
The move had started with a Sukhdev Singh long-throw which was somehow laid onto the 21 year-old’s path by Gagandeep Bali and the Bhutanese sensation made no mistake guiding in into the net with a superb Volley out of nowhere that gave the Punjabi Warriors an early lead.
It also send shock waves into the home team’s players who foresaw their second defeat at home in consecutive matches. The stadium which had for a long time been their hunting ground went dead early on as Gyeltshen ran hero, having scored a spectacular goal.
But Neroca desperate to not let their hopes wither away, fought hard. Their defence that had conceded six in the first 10 now has shipped in three in the opening 20 minutes which meant the home side were trailing for the third match in a row, other two being in Aizawl and against Shillong Lajong.
13 4H bhi although they came close in quite a few occasions, their poor finishing let them down.
Felix Chidi’s golden chance to nail two goals proved futile as both hit into the side-netting a minute before the final whistle, handing Minerva Punjab a crucial win on their road to the title.