Minerva Punjab defeated Neroca FC 2-1 in the Manipuri side’s first-ever I-League encounter at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on Friday.
Goals from Chencho Gyeltshen and Lago Bei overcame the opening goal from Neroca’s Felix Chidi as the away team defended poorly in their top flight debut.
Neroca, who have been promoted from the I-League’s second division, got off to a strong start as a shot from Chidi hit a Minerva defender’s arm but the referee waved play on as the home team looked shaky in defence at the start.
Minerva, who started in a 4-2-3-1 formation were pegged back by Neroca’s high pressing tactics as gaffer Wangem Khogem saw his side struggle to keep the ball initially. Neroca’s pressure paid off in the 18th minute as Chidi scored his team’s first-ever I-league goal.
Running in from the left, the ball fell for the Nigerian who took a touch before slotting it past Arshpreet Singh in the Minerva goal. The home team almost immediately changed their tactics as they employed a three-man defense with two auxiliary wing-backs to try and flood the midfield.
The Bhutanese striker Chencho was playing on the left, with Lago Bei in the centre and it was the former who brought Minerva level. Stealing the ball off Neroca striker Gopi, Abhishek Ambekar fed it to Gyeltshen who turned a Neroca defender inside out before slamming it past Lalit Thapa with his left foot.
Chencho was involved in the second goal again as his ball found Ambekar on the left, who ran towards the edge of the box before feeding it to Lago, who comfortably rolled the ball in added time at the end of the first half.
In the second half, it was Minerva who came out the stronger of the two teams as the Punjabi side stepped up the pressure on their opponents. Chencho stole the ball off Govin Moirangthem but just had Thapa to beat, shooting wide instead.
The chances kept falling to the home team’s No 7 who was again put through but shot wide with his left foot. Neroca, who were not able to control the game, gave the ball away far too often and were unable to muster decent chances in the final third despite dominating possession.
The game ended 2-1 to Minerva, who go top of the I-League table with 4 points from 2 games, while Neroca are yet to open their account.