Panchkula (Harya), Feb 7: Minerva Punjab FC rode on a late strike by Gagandeep Bali to pip Shillong Lajong FC 3-2 in an exciting I-League match and regain the top spot here on Wednesday.
Guy Eric Dano had struck in the sixth minute to give Minerva the lead. Bali (45+2, 81st minute) had doubled the hosts’ lead just before half-time.
However, Lajong clawed their way back into the game in the second half with Daniel Odafin (60th) and Lawrence Sokota Doe (67th) scoring in quick succession to put the visitors on level terms.
It was an open game thereafter with both teams maging to create their fair share of chances.
Bali however, struck in the closing stages to ensure all three points for Minerva. Minerva thus climbed a spot to the top of the table with 29 points from 13 matches. They pushed down top division debutants Neroca FC to the second place.
Neroca, who have played 14 matches, trail Minerva by two points.
Lajong remain at the fifth position in the 10-team league ladder with 17 points from 15 matches.
Wednesday’s victory is a huge boost for Minerva in their quest for a maiden I-League title as Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are also in with a chance to win the crown.
East Bengal are third with 23 points from 13 matches while arch-rivals Mohun Bagan are fourth with 20 points from 12 outings.
Minerva started attacking heavily in the opening few minutes and were rewarded with an early goal when Sukhdev Singh’s long throw-in came rumbling down to Dano after multiple deflections and flicks.
Dano volleyed it with utmost precision to send it into the top right corner.
Lajong nearly conceded an own goal from another long throw in the 24th minute. The Minerva defence was really strong with Sukhdev and Dano’s rock solid partnership holding Shillong’s attacks at bay.
Bali set up Chencho Gyeltshen in the 14th minute for a simple finish but he couldn’t sort his feet quickly and missed the target from six yards out.
William struck a rocket from 35 yards out in the 28th minute troubling Lajong keeper Phurba Lachenpa in the process who somehow maged to keep the shot out.
Minerva struck another goal through Bali just seconds before halftime after setting off Chencho on the run down the right flank and meeting his low cross at the end of a great supporting run.
Lajong made a half-time substitution as Alen Deory joined the fray at the expense of Lalrohlua which had an instant impact for them.
The visitors attacked right from the start of the second half and struck two back to back goals in a span of three minutes to bring the match alive.
A tad scuffle in the box followed by multiple clearance attempts gave Daniel Odafin a chance to take a shot at the loose ball from outside the box and he found the elusive goal on the hour-mark.
Three minutes later, Laurence Doe stunned the noisy Minerva supporters having scored the equaliser. As he was completely left unmarked, he had all the time and space to head it past a leaping Minerva goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar to help his team equalise.
Minerva’s new signing Bazie Armand tried his luck to get back Minerva’s lead but his shot took a deflection for a corner kick.
Bali filly restored Minerva’s lead in the 80th minute after confusion among the Shillong defenders left Bali unmarked just outside the box.
Shillong kept bombarding Minerva’s defence with further attacks almost scoring the equaliser in injury time but William Asiedu’s goal-line clearance secured all three points for the hosts. (IANS)