Bali Gagandeep’s solitary strike in the first half helped Minerva Punjab FC notch up a 1-0 win over hosts Gokulam Kerala FC in an I-League match in Kozhikode on Saturday.

Gagandeep’s 19th minute goal made all the difference as Minerva left the EMS Corporation Stadium here with all three points, while hosts Gokulam were left empty-handed.

Odafa Okolie
could have made his I-League debut for the Kerala-based side merrier, had he found the back of the net with his first touch in the first minute of the game. After posing an early threat, Gokulam Kerala slowly slipped into their shells as the visitors started to dominate.

The Bhutanese playmaker Chencho Gyeltshen, also known as CG7, caused havoc down the left flank and Gagandeep made no mistake tapping his cross home in the 19th minute to open the scoring. After the goal, the Punjab-based side continued to push harder to double the lead but they couldn’t breach the Gokulam defence anymore till the halfway mark.

Gokulam FC debutant Balwinder couldn’t match up to the pace generated by Chencho in the 33rd minute providing the visitors with another opportunity but eventually, Daniel Addo averted the danger.

After the changeover, Bino George introduced the fresh pair of legs of Usman Ashik withdrawing already-booked Kivi and the lanky attacker put in much-needed vigour in the attacking third for the hosts.

They earned three consecutive corners after the hour-mark but what they could only make was to force Rakshit Dagar to make a fingertip save to keep the scoreline unchanged.

Odafa Okolie showed his sublime touch in the 72nd minute when he unleashed an inch-perfect pass to Usman but before the youngster could put away the chance, Dagar threw himself to snatch it from Ashik’s feet.

Chencho once again came very close to scoring but Balwinder intercepted well to avert the danger in the 84th minute. Following the win, Minerva Punjab unsettled Neroca from the second spot with 16 points from 7 matches whereas Gokulam Kerala dropped to the ninth spot with four points having played the same number of matches.

Meanwhile, Minerva Punjab FC are within touching distance of the pole position as the leaders East Bengal, who have amassed 17 points so far, having played one match more. Minerva Punjab will now travel to Kolkata to take on Mohun Bagan on January 10 and the Kerala outfit will host Indian Arrows after two days.