Defending champions Minerva Punjab FC overcame East Bengal Club 1-0 at Kolkata’s Saltlake Stadium, courtesy a William Opoku strike in the 77th minute to get back into title reckoning with their third win of the 12th I-League season taking them up to the second place on the points table after seven games. For East Bengal, it was their third loss in five matches and they now move further down to eighth out of 11 teams.
Both the hosts and the visitors made two changes to their starting line-up from their previous games. East Bengal’s Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez Garcia gave midfielder Kassim Aidara his first start of the season against his former club and also got in Yami Longwah. Both the Ralte’s, Laldanmawia and Lalrindika made way for them.
Minerva Punjab FC’s Irish coach Paul Munster, on the other hand, played Nigerian defensive midfielder Bala Hassan Dahir in place of countryman Donatus Edafe and in a straight defensive swap, brought in Akashdeep Singh in place of Arashpreet Singh.
The first half was a battle of attrition mainly with no clear-cut chances for the goal being created. East Bengal had the best of two half-chances, both created by striker Jobby Justin. Esqueda missed the first while Brandon Vanlalremdika was at the end of the other but both attempts went wide.
The second half began in a more entertaining fashion. The hosts were more enterprising to begin with, but a couple of substitutions on each side, particularly those made by Minerva Punjab FC, changed the complexion of the game, as far as goalscoring chances were concerned.
The first corner of the game went Minerva Punjab FC’s way in the 56th minute. They got two on the bounce but to no avail.
Opoku got the best chance of the game in the 57th minute when he was played on by substitute Moinuddin on the right of the box and his strike brought about a good save by Ubaid to thwart the Ghanaian.
Esqueda, in the 62nd minute, took advantage of a poor clearance by the Minerva Punjab FC defence, to unleash a crisp half-volley but Arshdeep in the Minerva Punjab FC goal was equal to it.
Opoku then tried to create when he latched on to a ball and cut in from the right to unleash a wonderful cross for Donatus Edafe rushing in from the left. The Nigerian’s effort with only the goalkeeper to beat from six yards out, was not only weak but also off target.
Hero of the Match Opoku, finally got the goal he wanted when the champions caught East Bengal on the break and Moinuddin floated in a cross from the left flank which pierced an onrushing Ubaid and a retreating Manoj Mohammad to land perfectly at the Ghanaian’s feet, whose first-time connection went into the empty net. It was his second strike in three games.
The tireless Jobby Justin then came up with a brilliant header for East Bengal in injury-time, but Arshdeep managed to keep it out to inflict the hosts with their third defeat of the season.