Panchkula: Beaten and battered after successive defeats, their first in 15 rounds of matches, Minerva Punjab will aim to reignite their I-League campaign when they take on defending champions Aizawl FC at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium here on Monday.
Chasing their maiden title in what remains their only second season in top-tier football, the Chandigarh based club looked well in course enroute to glory. But just four points from a possible 20 in the last five encounters means they remain third in the table.
The championship however is still their’s to lose. They stand on 29 points, the same as second-placed East Bengal but Minerva have a game in hand and that may well give them a big advantage over their possibly direct title rivals.
Pressure however have certainly built up and they too just like the other top-two (East Bengal and Neroca) face a must-win situation, to keep themselves alive in the tile race.
But facing a team ravaged with injuries, Minerva will certainly fancy their chances. “Our main 8-10 players are out so I am taking all my youngsters,” said Aizawl head coach Santosh Kashyap — on charge after Paul Menezes was sacked following a string of poor results.
In two matches under him, Aizawl have won one and lost the other keeping them on sixth in the 10-team table. They have 21 points from 16 matches and will require a couple of victories to keep themselves away from the relegation battle.
In only their second season in the league, Minerva have lost on four occasions. But what have hurt them most is the consecutive defeats against East Bengal and surprise package Gokulam Kerala — matches they were expected to atleast secure a point if not full three. They play Aizawl in their penultimate home game and Khogen expects his young team to respond.
“We are optimistic of getting our campaign back in track. We will look to play good football and secure three points from the tie,” said head coach Khogen Singh.
Five matches ago they were on an unbeaten streak and were comfortably placed at the table-top, but have since then lost thrice and drawn once in the next five.
When asked if it led to complacency in the team, Moinuddin who accompanied his coach to the pre-match conference said, “It’s nothing like that. The matches we lost is because we couldn’t perform, rather our opponents were superior on the field. We were not overconfident at all. Our focus is still very much in the title and we’ll remain positive in the next match as well.”
With the title race heating up with every passing game, Minerva cannot afford another blip that hurts their hopes but Kashyap said his boys have come prepared to play attacking football.