By Rajarshi Chakrabarty
Minerva FC returned to winning ways after two back-to-back defeats beating Aizawl FC 2-0 at Tau Devi Lal Stadium on Monday with goals from Akash Sangwan and Bazie Armand inching closer to the Hero I-League glory.
Minerva FC was desperate to get their title quest back on track against Aizawl FC after suffering defeats in the hands of East Bengal and a shock defeat to Gokulam Kerala FC in their last two games.
The slip in momentum, allowed East Bengal and NEROCA FC to stay in the hunt as Minerva FC seemed to be losing their edge at the closing stages of the league as the other two teams were breathing on the shoulders of Minerva Punjab FC.
Desperate for the winning Minerva Punjab FC Coach Khogen Singh put all his attacking resources on the pitch as he started with Chencho Gyaltsen and William Opoku along with Kassim Aidara, Bali Gagandeep, and Akash Sangwan looking for an early goal.
Aizawl FC put faith in their attacking duo of Leonce Dodoz and Lalkhawpuimawaia and Andrei Ionescu playing behind the front two as Santosh Kashyap fielded an unchanged squad from their last game win over Indian Arrows.
Chencho fired the first warning shot on the 11th minute as the Bhutanese forward foxed defender Lalrozama Fanai on the edge of the box to create space but his right-footed effort went wide of the target.
Minerva FC’s attacking formation allowed them to maintain pressure on the Aizawl FC as the Punjab side used the flanks and clever switching of position to deliver aerial supply for the forward line.
On the 16th minute, Kassim Aidara could not direct his header towards the goal as Kamalpreet’s precision-guided cross found the midfielders as Minerva FC continued to fire warning shots to press the Aizawl FC defenders.
Aizawl FC found their first real chance of the match when Lalthathanga Khawlhring ran down the lifted and delivered a cross to find Puimawaia but the striker failed to finish having controlled the ball well with his first touch but could not keep his shot within the goal past the onrushing goalkeeper.
Minerva FC went into the break having dominated the first half with72% of the possession as Aizawl FC were happy to defend deep and looked to hit Minerva FC on the counter-attack.Unfortunately, Minerva FC could not open the scoring despite having the majority of the ball and three shots on the goal.
Back in the second half, Minerva FC continued to build upon the attack and was soon rewarded on the 50th minute as Akash Sangwan opened the scoring for Minerva to give a 1-0 lead.
The goal had the trademark of Minerva’s tactical inter-change of play as William Opoku picked up the ball from midfield and played it on the right flank to Chencho Gyaltsen who delivered a low cross into the box towards Akash Sangwan whose initial left-footed poke was saved by Aizawl keeper Avilash Paul but the rebound fell to Sangwan who made no mistake heading it into the goal.
Both sides had odd chances for the remaining of the second half but failed to change the scoreline until substitute Bazie Armand came off the bench on 93rd minute to score with a simple tap-in into the open goal on the 95th minute from a William Opoku headed assist to give Minerva FC a 2-0 lead.
Minerva has now 32 points from 16 games with two games to play as they need a win and a draw to potentially seal the championship tag for the Hero I League 2018.