Shillong: Defending Champions Minerva Punjab and Shillong Lajong FC played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in an exciting I-League encounter in Shillong on Friday.
Ghanaian frontman William Opoku (45+2) and Nigerian midfielder Philip Njoku (75th) scored for Minerva, while Buam (24th) and Allen Nongbri (44th) got on the scoresheet for the hosts.
It was an absorbing game and from the outset, it was clear that the champions would press high and the hosts seemed to be wanting to build patiently from the back with small ground passes between themselves.
Minerva enjoyed more of the ball in the initial stage but in the 24th minute, quite against the run of play, it was the hosts who went ahead, thanks to a defensive error from the champions.
On the counter, Phrangki Buam was first sent on his way on the left flank but the ball seemed to have been comfortably covered by Deepak Devrani, playing his first game of the season.
The rust showed as the burly defender played a callous back-pass towards his goalkeeper, but it was so feeble that a chasing Buam intercepted it, ran inside the box and floated the ball neatly over an onrushing Arshdeep for a quality finish.
Minerva kept pressing to get the equaliser and Njoku put in a wonderful cross for Opoku in the 35th minute, but the latter's header lacked direction.
Opoku was again in the clear when Jagpreet put him through inside the box with a deft lob over the defenders, but his strike could not avoid the body of defenders in front and went wide again.
Shillong then doubled their lead in the 44th minute, this time with another wonderfully constructed counter-attacking move.
It was Buam who went right to Lyngdoh, who then crossed to Allen Nongbri inside the box on the left, for the defender to bring another calm finish, tapping past Arshdeep with his left boot.
At the stroke of halftime, Minerva pulled one back when in the second minute of added time, Edafe chased a long ball from just inside the Shillong half, into their box and went past Neitho.
With the goal unguarded, Edafe passed the ball to a more centrally located Opoku inside the box, whose powerful strike went in after hitting a diving Neitho and a Lajong defender on the way.
The second-half began in utter confusion. At first, it seemed that Minerva had made three changes, bringing in Akash Sangwan, Nigerian Bala Dahir and Ivorian Alexandre Kouassi in place of Deepak Devrani, who made that blunder with the first goal, Jagpreet and Akashdeep Singh.
However a minute later, Bala Dahir had to be called back as it was clear the Minerva management had miscalculated and were playing with six foreigners on the pitch, instead of the allowed five. As a result, they were penalised and forced to play the rest of the game with 10 men.
That did not stop the champions from going all out for the equaliser though. Kouassi was adding a lot of zest down the right flank and Opoku was guilty of squandering a couple of more chances.
Shillong, in the meantime, seemed content to be soaking in the pressure and attacking.
Minerva finally got their equaliser in the 75th minute after some scrappy defending from Shillong.
Njoku passed the ball forward to Kouassi on top of the Shillong box on the left. Kouassi wanted to play further to the left, but the ball deflected off Aibhan and came back in where Kharsong came up with a weak clearance.
An onrushing Njoku, who had Kharsong's clearance bounce favourably off his chest in front of him, took a touch and unleashed a powerful strike to bulge the back of the net.
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 22:31:14 IST