Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Minerva Punjab FC clinches I-League title

Khalid Jamil East Bengal I League 2017-18 I-League
Kayla Schwartz | 09 March, 2018, 15:21

As the 22 players gathered around him after the 1-0 win over Churchill Brothers at Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj headed towards 68-year-old Sukhwinder Singh, the manager of JCT, the last North Indian club to win the I- League title in 1996-97. This is the drama on the last day of the I-League as Minerva Punjab FC gear to host relegation threatened Churchill Brothers FC in a match that will have people from Goa and Punjab cued up for action.

Minerva defeated Churchill Brothers 1-0 in their final match to finish on 35 points and emerge Champions. Both Bagan and East Bengal finished with 31 points, but the former took the third spot due to superior head-to-head record.

Asier Pierrick Dipanda of Cameroon finished top scorer of the league with his 12 goals for Mohun Bagan, including one on the final day.

For a club that is only in their second season in top-flight, the title triumph would easily qualify as some achievement.

East Bengal are desperate to end their 14-year title drought, having last won the tournament in the 2003-04 season, when it was called the National Football League (NFL).

However, when most thought they would run away with the league, along came a rejuvenated Churchill Brothers. Minerva are only in their second year in top-plight football. Minerva Punjab's attacking trio of Chencho Gyeltshen, William and Girik Khosla combined well to put Churchill's defence in jeopardy.

Chencho nearly scored the opener in eighth minute when a low Khosla cross wasn't dealt with properly by Osagie Monday, giving the Bhutanese ace a chance, but he couldn't make full use of it. However, the Kerala-based side got the equalizer in the Henry Kisekka's strike in the first half.

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- The big chance for Churchill came in the 61st minute when Ceesay created space inside the box to set himself for a shot but the ball just went over the crossbar.

East Bengal ringed in as many as six changes from their 2-2 draw against Shillong Lajong.

Although Chencho, Minerva's Bhutanese sensation had found the back of the net in the 8th minute of the game, the champions had to wait till Opoku converted from point-blank range.

THE ONUS to win the title was on Minerva Punjab FC, not for first time though.

Meanwhile, football giants East Bengal and debutants NEROCA FC will look to secure a victory at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan while hoping other results go in their favour in order to capture the title.

Both teams pushed for a victor towards the dying minutes of the match but with Minerva not winning their game, the motivation also seemed lacking.

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