Defending champion Minerva begins campaign with draw against Churchill

Even as Minerva showed glimpses of its ability in the second half, the match was characterised by a dearth of imagination in attack as both teams failed to break the deadlock.

Minerva Punjab could not begin its I-League campaign with a win at home as Churchill Brothers held it to an uninspiring draw.   -  Special Arrangement

Defending Champion Minerva Punjab FC shared points with Churchill Brothers in its first match of the Hero I-League season at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula. Even as Minerva showed glimpses of its ability in the second half, the match was characterised by a dearth of imagination in attack as both teams failed to break the deadlock.

Minerva coach Paul Munster started with an attacking formation with Nigerian Philip Njoku and young Souvik Das as wing backs in front of a three man defense led by Ivorian Lancine Toure.  Churchill started with the more conservative 4-4-2 formation with Trinidadian Willis Plaza and and Gambian Dawda Cessay upfront.

Churchill, led by an enterprising Dawda Cessay and Auco and Hangshing in midfield, was the better side in the first half. But Plaza, who got on the end of most chances the Goan side created, was unable to convert any. In the ninth minute, the Trinidadian got a free header from a corner but his shot went wide.

In the 20th minute, Minerva goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy foiled Churchill's best chance of the half after Hussein Eldor stole the ball deep inside the Minerva half. He laid the ball onto the path of Plaza but an onrushing Roy made a crucial interception to deny Churchill a chance at the lead and the teams went into the half-time break on level terms.

Dilliram Sanyasi and Alexandre, who were brought in the second half for Minerva injected the side with much-needed pace and flair and the defending champion threatened for most of the half.

Njoku got the first clear chance for Minerva in the 64th minute of the game when a low cross from Souvik from the right saw the ball fall favourably for the Nigerian inside the box. His curling right footer on the turn sailed over the bar. A one-two between Njoku and Akash Sangwan almost saw the Nigerian through to goal but Eldor, who had a brilliant match at the heart of the Churchill defense, made a crucial tackle.

In the 90th minute, substitute Uttam Rai had a golden chance to win it for the away side when an inocuous floater from Mohanraj on the overlap from the left found him with just Roy to beat, but his volley went straight at the keeper.