Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen scored in the third minute as Minerva Punjab beat Neroca FC 1 -0 in an entertaining I-League match to strengthened their position at the top of the table in Imphal on Saturday.

In the clash between the two top teams in the league table, Gyeltshen’s early strike made all the difference in the fast-paced and closely contested match as the Punjab side walked away with full three points, much to the disappointment of the 17,000 strong home supporters at the Khuman Lampak Stadium.

With today’s win, Minerva now have 25 points from 10 matches and they are now four points clear of Neroca, who still occupy second spot with 21 points from 12 matches. Neroca thus suffered their second consecutive loss at home after their 0-2 defeat against Shillong Lajong on January 24.

Before the Shillong Lajong match, Neroca were on a nine-match unbeaten run but the two back-to-back loss would dealt a body blow to their title aspirations. Just like in the earlier match against Shillong Lajong, Neroca had more possession and dominated large parts of the match but a goal eluded them once again.

Even as some of the home supporters were making their way into the stadium, Neroca let in a goal in the third minute of the match with Chencho Gyeltshen firing home off a long throw in from the right.

The Neroca defence which has come under the scanner for letting in early goals in the previous two matches was once again found wanting with the Bhutanese Gyeltshen getting all the time in the world to take a shot just in front of the goal.

The early jolt means Neroca were trailing for the third match in a row, other two being in Aizawl and against Shillong Lajong here. The closing stages of the first half saw Neroca pressing for an equaliser and Minerva citadel was under intense pressure but the goal did not come.

After the change of ends, Minerva had two good chances both from William Asiedu but he could not double the lead. First, Asiedu’s 50th minute grounder was saved by Neroca keeper L Bishorjit Singh who dived to his right to stop the ball.

Two minutes later, Asiedu shot over from the top of the box.In the 75th minute, Minerva keeper Kiran Kumar Limbu made a fine save as he punched away the ball off a cross from the right, almost from the head of second half substitute Nedo Turkovic. Just a minute before the final whistle, Felix Chidi had a golden chance to equalise but his shot hit the side nettings to the loud groan of the home supporters.

Keeper Sukhan Gill put up a commendable performance as Indian Arrows held Chennai City to a goalless draw in an I-League match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here today.

Slovenian keeper Uros Poljanec was tested in the second minute of the game when Rahim Ali triggered a venomous shot on goal from an acute angle after being played through by Sanjeev Stalin. Within minutes Chennai City FC could have got the opener after Sinivasan Pandyan’s floated through ball found Jean Joachim.

The Frenchman’s audacious effort at goal required both Gill and the woodwork to stop the ball from bulging into the net. Chennai City started to make their attacking intentions clear in the last ten minutes of the first-half as they scooped up a number of chances.

Edwin Vanspaul failed to keep his shot on target after he was laid off by Roamrio. Within minutes, Joachim wasted an opportunity to put his team in front when he could not direct his header towards goal after Romario delivered a perfectly measured cross for the Frenchman.

Injuries played the spoilsport in the first-half as Pradeep Mohanraj had to leave the field in an ambulance after blood continued to ooze out from a cut just above his eye brow. On the other side, Rahim Ali was in tears after injuring his right ankle, which was soon bandaged with ice pack.

Joachim could have broken the deadlock for CCFC in the intial minutes of the second half if only he had beaten Gill under the sticks after dribbling past two defenders. Joachim slotted home on the 57th minute after Gill failed to collect the ball cleary but the linesman raised his flag to deny the Coimbatore-based side to go in front.

Things heated up when Henry was given the marching orders after the defender stamped on Abhijit Sarkar, Deepak Tangri and Vanspaul were also cautioned after situation came under control.Arrows continued to show composure and maintain their defensive shape until the final whistle which earned them a point.

Earlier, V Soundarajan went for four changes to the starting XI from the previous match with Henry Mosang, Uros Poljanec, Pardeep Mohanraj, and Alexander Jesuraj coming in for V Shumeyko, V Baskaran, S Alam and Murilo respectively.

Shumeyko and Ravanan continued to be at the heart of defence, whereas Jean Joachim started the match being the sole striker upfront. Indian Arrows coach Luis Norton de Matos also went for three changes to the side that got bogged down by Churchill Brothers in Goa.

Skipper Amarjit Singh, Abhijit Sarkar and Boris Singh started from the bench as they were replaced by Princeton Rebello, Aniket Jadhav and Asish Rai. Gill continued to be under the sticks supported by a backline comprising of Sanjeev Stalin, Anwar Ali, Jitendra Singh and Asish Rai. Chennai City will next host Aizawl on February 3, while Indian Arrows will be up against East Bengal a day later in Kolkata.

(With inputs from PTI)