Imphal: Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen scored in the third minute as Minerva Punjab beat Neroca FC 1 -0 in an entertaining I-League match to strengthen their position at the top of the table.
In the 12th round clash between the two top teams in the league table, Gyeltshen's early strike made all the difference in the fast-paced and closely contested match as the Punjab side walked away with full three points, much to the disappointment of the 17,000 strong home supporters at the Khuman Lampak Stadium.
With Saturday's win, Minerva now have 25 points from 10 matches and they are now four points clear of Neroca, who still occupy second spot with 21 points from 12 matches.
Neroca thus suffered their second consecutive loss at home after their 0-2 defeat against Shillong Lajong on 24 January.
Before the Shillong Lajong match, Neroca were on a nine-match unbeaten run but the two back-to-back loss would dealt a body blow to their title aspirations.
Just like in the earlier match against Shillong Lajong, Neroca had more possession and dominated large parts of the match but a goal eluded them once again.
Even as some of the home supporters were making their way into the stadium, Neroca let in a goal in the third minute of the match with Chencho Gyeltshen firing home off a long throw in from the right.
The Neroca defence which has come under the scanner for letting in early goals in the previous two matches was once again found wanting with the Bhutanese Gyeltshen getting all the time in the world to take a shot just in front of the goal.
The early jolt means Neroca were trailing for the third match in a row, other two being in Aizawl and against Shillong Lajong in Imphal.
Neroca citadel came under threat again in the eighth minute but this time, Minerva winger William Asiedu shot wide from the top of the box.
Two minutes later, it was the turn of Neroca to get their first chance of the day.
Aryn Glen Williams sent a measured high ball for Felix Chidi inside the Minerva box but the Nigerian could not keep the ball down and it sailed over the bar.
The closing stages of the first half saw Neroca pressing for an equaliser and Minerva citadel was under intense pressure but the goal did not come.
After the change of ends, Minerva had two good chances both from William Asiedu but he could not double the lead.
First, Asiedu's 50th minute grounder was saved by Neroca goalkeeper L Bishorjit Singh who dived to his right to stop the ball. Two minutes later, Asiedu shot over from the top of the box.
In the 75th minute, Minerva goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu made a fine save as he punched away the ball off a cross from the right, almost from the head of second half substitute Nedo Turkovic.
Just a minute before the final whistle, Felix Chidi had a golden chance to equalise but his shot hit the side nettings to the loud groan of the home supporters.
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2018 18:33 PM