Defending I-League champions Minerva Punjab kicked off their campaign by playing out a goal-less draw with Churchill Brothers while Shilong Lajong won the season’s first North East derby 2-1 against Aizawl FC on Sunday.

Miverva Punjab and Churchill Brothers split points at the end of 90 minutes, in a match characterised by many missed chances, as both teams failed to break the deadlock at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula.

Minerva chose to go in with an attacking formation with Nigerian Philip Njoku and Souvik Das as wing backs in front of a three-man defence led by Ivorian Lancine Toure. Akash Sangwan and Nongdamba Naorem, also their under-22 starter of the day, were played as attacking left and right wingers. William Opoku and Manandeep Singh were the target men upfront.

Churchill’s new coach for the season, Romanian Petre Gigiu opted for a more conservative 4-4-2 formation with Willis Plaza and Dawda Cessay upfront with a four-man midfield led by Khalid Aucho and Richard Costa at its heart.

Lamgoulen Hangshing was their under-22 pick in midfield and the youngster impressed in the game with his technique and vision before he was replaced early in the second half. James Kithan was preferred in goal and the four-man backline was led by the likes of Hussein Eldor and Mohanraj.

The Goan side had the better of the exchanges in the first half, led by good performances by Dawda Cessay in particular who was the most enterprising, as well as Aucho and Hangshing in midfield. Lancine Toure also pulled off a good block to deny Churchill an opener midway through the first half.

The visitors dominated the opening period and had more chances to score than the hosts but lacked incision in the final third.

In the 90th minute, substitute Uttam Rai had a golden chance to win it for the away side but his volley went straight at the keeper Bhaskar Roy.

Naorem shines for Lajong

Later in the day, Naorem Mahesh Singh scored two brilliant goals on either side of half time to clinch full three points for Shilong Lajong at home. Aizawl’s Liberian striker Ansumanah Kromah got one back for the visitors but it was not enough.

The young Shillong Lajong side, not fielding any foreigners this season and playing as many as nine U-22 players in the starting XI, ensured that the fans had enough to rejoice.

Naorem’s opener came against the run of play when he side-stepped a defender before unleashing a curler to beat Aizawl goalkeeper Gurpreet in the 20th minute.

And he doubled the team’s lead in the 51st minute when he directed a cross from defender Rakesh Pradhan into the net with a perfect lob.

Aizawl finally got one back after a 1-2 between Paul and Remsanga outside the Shillong box but could not find an equaliser.