I-League: East Bengal hand Minerva Punjab first defeat at home, title race heats up
East Bengal handed leaders Minerva Punjab FC their first defeat at home this season to stay alive in the I-League title race with a crucial 1-0 win in Panchkula on Tuesday.
Third-placed East Bengal’s win was made possible owing to a thunderous long-range volley from Cavin Lobo on the hour mark at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium.
Apart from the early few minutes, East Bengal dominated the game having penetrated Minerva’s defence with sharp through balls from the flanks.
Minerva Punjab’s goalkeeper Rakshit had to come out of his position numerous times to clear the ball from one-on-one situation to keep the scoreline unscathed.
Minerva slowly came back into the game in the latter part of the first half when Chencho and William started attacking from both wings. The Red & Golds almost conceded an own goal from a wayward clearance by Eduardo in the 37th minute, which landed on the roof of the net.
Meanwhile, East Bengal missed an easy chance to go forward when Yami Longvah failed to connect a cross inside the box in the 35th minute, resulting in an early change by Khalid Jamil, who introduced Ghenafo Kromah at his expense.
At half time, it was even-stevens as both teams tried adjusting to the ground conditions.
Minerva started the second half sharply with pacey attacks from wings. Gagandeep had an outrageous opportunity in the 48th minute but his mistimed shot was easily stopped by Ubaid.
Minerva then had another chance when William was tripped in a dangerous position just outside the penalty box but the resultant free kick by Sukhdev was off-target.
But an absolute stunner by Lobo silenced the home crowd to give his side the lead with 30 minutes of game-time left.
Chencho had an extremely good chance to level the score in the 79th minute but his shot went straight into the goalie’s gloves.
Chencho made an excellent run straight into the opposition’s box beating three players in the process and eventually, delivered a delicious cross to William who had ample time to hit the target, but his wayward header missed it.
The visitors then held on their nerves for the remaining minutes to get three crucial points and stay alive in the title race.
The Kolkata giants will now travel to Kozhikode to challenge Gokulam Kerala FC on February 17, while Minerva Punjab FC will host the Kerala-based side three days later.
Minerva Punjab have 29 points from 14 games, second-placed Neroca FC have 28 from 15 matches, while East Bengal have 26 points from 14.