Minerva Punjab regain top spot with 2-0 defeat of Aizawl
By Abhishek Hore
Panchkula, Feb 26 (PTI) Minerva Punjab renewed their title chase with a convincing 2-0 defeat of reigning champions Aizawl FC, the result breaking a run of successive home reverses and helping them regain pole position in the I-League, here today.
Akash Sangwan broke the deadlock in the 50th minute while Ivory Coast import Bazie Armand, who replaced Bhutanese Chencho Gyeltshen moments before the final whistle, added another in the injury time (90+5).
Minerva Punjab, who finished second last the previous season, led the standings with 32 points from 16 matches, leapfrogging Neroca FC and East Bengal with two more games to play.
Minerva is the father of football, the home fans yelled in chorus throughout as their team secured full three points at a crucial juncture of the league.
When winger Sangwan headed the ball in off a rebound, Minerva Punjabs passionate owner Ranjit Bajaj broke into celebration, and so did the raucous crowd that gathered at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium.
Minerva Punjab completed the game with a strike late into the second half injury time when Opokus header off a Kamalpreet Singh free-kick landed on Armands path.
For the first goal, Kamalpreet, an U-22 player who plays at the back, started the move; midfield marshal William Opoku laid it for Chencho on the right before Sangwans left-footed attempt was thwarted by Avilash Paul. But Sangwan found the back of the next off the resultant rebound.
Coming off reverses in the last two outings at home, Minerva Punjab signalled their intentions at the start and there was no let-up in the intensity as the first half progressed.
Clearly, Minerva had the lions share of ball possession in a display of attacking football.
However, a goal eluded the home team and Bajaj, who also occupies a place in the dugout as team manager, was far from pleased. The early signs, though, were positive as far as Minerva Punjab were concerned.
In the 11th minute, Chencho was off in a flash jinking past three Aizawl defenders, before shooting Amandeep Singhs pass wide.
Chencho was again in the thick of things but, despite a desperate attempt with his outstretched legs, could not reach Opokus pass.
It was then Opokus chance to get a clear view of the goal, but his header from Kamalpreets cross on the right, too went wide.
While Minerva Punjab were the dominant of the two teams, defending champions Aizawl FC too had their share of chances, and the midfield duo of Andrei Ionescu and Lalthathanga Khawlhring did keep the home defence busy.
There was another opportunity but Chencho, after leaping high to meet a cross, shot the ball straight into the waiting hands of the rival goalkeeper.
The script went on similar lines in the second half as well, as Minerva Punjab were on the lookout for goals.
After losing the last two matches, there was a change in tactics from Minerva as they resorted to playing short passes in this game, though the second half saw them playing long balls on occasions.
Minerva head coach Khogen Singh made just one change to the XI he started with against Gokulam FC, with Amandeep Singh coming in for Randeep Singh in midfield. Gagandeep Bali started as the lone striker, supported by Chencho, Opoku and Akashdeep Singh.
Aizawl coach Santosh Kashyap made no changes to the team that started in the win against Indian Arrows. Aizawl FC remained in sixth place with 21 points