I League: Minerva beats NEROCA 2-1

Goals from Chencho and Lago in the first half gave Minerva Punjab the license to sit back and defend judiciously in the second. The win gave Minerva top spot in the league table.

Minerva Punjab celebrates one of its goals in Ludhiana on Friday.   -  AIFF

Minerva Punjab defeated debutant NEROCA FC 2-1 in a thrilling I-League match here on Friday.

Felix Chidi (18th minute) put Neroca FC in the lead but Chencho (24th) and Lago (45+2) scored to secure all three points for the host.

NEROCA, the Manipur side, started the match with high pace and intensity which bothered Minerva’s defence for much of the first 20 minutes. Minerva goalkeeper Arshdeep had to pull up his socks in the third minute itself when he dived to his left to save a brilliantly taken curling shot.

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Chencho had a good chance in the 16th minute but NEROCA captain and goalkeeper Lalit Thapa somehow thwarted it.

Meanwhile, Minerva’s back four stood firm until the 18th minute when a superb solo run by Chidi resulted in the first goal of the match. NEROCA did not get much time to celebrate as Minerva struck back six minutes later through Chencho, who beat his marker on the left corner of the penalty box and then hit the ball in the far right corner of the goal.

Minutes later, NEROCA won a free kick just yards outside the penalty area but Akhlidin’s effort went over the crossbar.

The vital one

Minerva would have taken the lead in the 39th minute when Chencho found himself one-on-one with the keeper but he could not hit the target. Just as the first half was about to end, Lago Bei found the net from Abhishek’s cross. Lago took a touch and then slotted the ball into the left corner from four yards out.

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This vital goal just before half-time changed everything.

The second half was more about Minerva sitting back to allow NEROCA attack and hitting it on the counter. NEROCA made two quick substitutions early on in the second half to find a way to penetrate Minerva defence. Chencho got another opportunity in the 76th minute when he dribbled past two defenders to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper but his shot brushed off the right goalpost.

Lago created an opportunity for Minerva in the 88th minute when he almost scored from 30 yards. NEROCA could not find any more good opportunities and home side Minerva emerged victorious.

With this victory, Minerva went atop the league table with four points from two matches.

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