A 68th-minute strike from Juan Quero Barraso helped Minerva Punjab defeat NEROCA FC 1-0 in an I-League contest here on Saturday. The win ended a winless run by Minerva Punjab after 80 days and propelled it to the seventh spot in the points table.
Its head coach, Sachin Badhadhe, opted for a strong attacking line-up for this contest — he kept Makan Chothe (the U-18 Elite Youth League star), Prabhjot Singh, Mahmoud Al Amna, and Quero in advanced positions. Kalif Al Hassan, the debutant, anchored the midfield alongside Amandeep Singh.
The side dominated proceedings right from the get-go. Akash Sangwan had an early chance to score, in the seventh minute, when he found space in the left flank. But his cross was gathered with ease by Lalit Thapa, the goalkeeper for NEROCA.
In the 21st minute, Amandeep had a great chance to open the account for the home team. He was played in by Amna; his shot, however, narrowly missed the post. The side came close once again, in the 41st minute — a 30-yard-shot from Amna missed the crossbar by a few inches.
In the 43rd minute, NEROCA FC came close to breaking the deadlock. It was perhaps its best chance of scoring in the contest. Subash Singh found his way through an array of defenders, but couldn’t find the back of the net. The side upped its intensity in the second half, and three players — Chencho Gyeltshen, Katsumi Yusa and Aryn Williams — missed their chances to take the lead.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, however, Minerva Punjab took control once again.
The side nearly took the lead when a cross from Chothe was redirected to the back of the net by Moinuddin Khan, the second-half substitute. However, the midfielder was declared offside.
Minerva Punjab didn’t have to wait too long to take the lead. Moinuddin controlled the ball well in the left wing to allow himself to create space; he sent in a low cross to Quero, who displayed remarkable control to get the goal.
It was a free-flowing game for the rest of the half, but NEROCA couldn’t make a comeback.
Minerva Punjab will next play East Bengal in what will be its last home fixture, on March 3. NEROCA, meanwhile, will travel to Kozhikode to face Gokulam Kerala FC on the same day.
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