I-League 2018: Lajong, Minerva play out entertaining draw

Minerva Punjab FC came back from a two-goal deficit to claim a 2-2 draw against Shillong Lajong in their I-League clash on Friday.

Action from the I-League clash between Shillong Lajong and Minerva Punjab FC.   -  I-League

Shillong Lajong held defending champion Minerva Punjab to a 2-2 draw at Shillong’s JLN Stadium in their I-League clash here on Friday. Ghanaian frontman William Opoku and Nigerian midfielder Philip Njoku scored for the Minerva while Buam and Allen Nongbri got on the scoresheet for the host.

Both the gaffers, Alison Kharyntiew and Minerva’s Irish coach Paul Munster, made quite a few changes to the starting eleven for this game. Alison made five changes and Paul three as both coaches opted for a change in goalkeepers. Neithovilie Chalieu was back in the Shillong goal after Alison’s brief flirtation with Purbha Lachempa while Arshdeep Singh made his first start in the Minerva goal replacing Bhaskar Roy.

From the outset, it was clear that the Minerva would press high and the host seemed eager to build patiently from the back with small ground passes between themselves.

Lancine Toure had a couple of chances come his way early on but both his attempts evaded the target. Then Njoku played William Opoku through with a lovely long ball from midfield, but the Ghanaian failed to reach the end of it.

The home side made the most of a Minerva defensive error to take the lead in the 24th minute.

On the counter, Phrangki Buam was played onto the the left flank but the ball fell to opposition defender Deepak Devrani, who seemed to have the ball in his control. However, the burly defender played a callous back-pass towards his goalkeeper, and a chasing Buam intercepted it, ran inside the box and floated the ball neatly over an onrushing Arshdeep for a quality finish.

Minerva's Njoku was in fine form and once again put in a wonderful cross for Opoku in the 35th minute, but the latter’s header lacked direction.

Shillong doubled its lead in the 44th minute through a wonderfully constructed counter-attacking move. Buam initiated the move, running through the middle to find Samuel Lyngdoh free on the right. Lyngdoh crossed to Allen Nongbri inside the box on the left and the defender struck a calm finish, tapping the ball past Arshdeep with his left boot to make it 2-0.

The youngsters from Shillong were clearly enjoying themselves and were perhaps a little casual in their approach as their league was halved just before half-time.

In the second minute of added time, Edafe chased a long ball from just inside the Shillong half, into the box and passed from the left to Opoku inside the box, whose powerful strike went in after taking a deflection. It was the last kick before the half-time whistle.

The second-half began in utter confusion. It first appeared that Minerva had made three changes, to begin with- Akash Sangwan, Nigerian Bala Dahir and Ivorian Alexandre Kouassi in place of Deepak Devrani who made that blunder with the first goal, Jagpreet and Akashdeep Singh.

However a minute later, Bala Dahir was found to be sitting on the bench again as the Minerva management had miscalculated and was playing with six foreigners on the pitch, instead of the allowed five. As a result, Minerva had to now play the game with 10 men on the pitch.

That did not stop the side from going all out in its search for the equaliser. Kouassi added a lot of pace down the right flank and Opoku was guilty of squandering a couple of more chances.

Minerva finally found the equaliser in the 75th minute after some scrappy defending from Shillong.

Njoku passed the ball forward to Kouassi on top of the Shillong box on the left. Kouassi wanted to play further to the left, but the ball deflected off a defender and fell to Kharsong, who came up with a weak clearance.

An onrushing Njoku, who had Kharsong’s clearance bounce favourably off his chest in front of him, took a touch and unleashed a powerful strike to bulge the back of the net and with it, earn his side a point.