Ludhiana: Minerva Punjab beat debutants NEROCA FC 2-1 in a thrilling I-League match after Felix Chidi (18th minute) put Neroca FC in the lead but Chencho (24th) and Lago (45+2) scored to secure all three points for the hosts.
Manipur side NEROCA started the match with high pace and intensity which bothered Minerva’s defence for much of the first 20 minutes.
Minerva goalkeeper Arshdeep had to pull up his socks in the third minute itself when he dived to his left to save a brilliantly taken curling shot.
Chencho had a good chance in the 16th minute but NEROCA captain and goalkeeper Lalit Thapa somehow thwarted it.
Meanwhile, Minerva’s back four stood firm until the 18th minute when a superb solo run by Chidi resulted to the first goal of the match.
NEROCA did not get much time to celebrate as Minerva struck back six minutes later through Chencho who beat his marker on the left corner of the penalty box and then hit the ball in the far right corner of the goal.
Minutes later, NEROCA won a free kick just yards outside the penalty area but Akhlidin’s effort went over the crossbar.
Minerva would have taken the lead in the 39th minute when Chencho found himself one on one with the keeper but he simply could not hit the target.
Just as the first half was about to end, Lago Bei found the net from Abhishek’s cross. Lago took a touch and then slotted the ball into the left corner from four yards out.
This vital goal just before half-time changed everything.
The second half was more about Minerva sitting back to allow NEROCA attack and hitting them on the counter.
NEROCA made two quick substitutions early on in the second half to find a way to penetrate Minerva defense.
Chencho got another opportunity in 76th minute when he dribbled past two defenders to go one on one with the keeper but his shot brushed off the right goalpost.
Lago created an opportunity for Minerva in the 88th minute when he almost scored from 30 yards.
NEROCA could not find any more good opportunities and home side Minerva emerged victorious.
With this victory, Minerva went atop the league table with four points from two matches.