Defending champions Minerva Punjab FC and Manipur’s Neroca FC played out a goalless draw in Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium on Sunday in the I-League, with both teams missing out on a chance to improve their standings.
The home-side dominated both possession and chances created and even missed a penalty, but could not get past a solid Minerva defence.
The result meant that Neroca stayed at fourth place in the 12th edition standings with 15 points from nine games while Minerva moved up by one to be sixth after 10 games with 13 points to show.
The game was played in a high tempo but Neroca was much the better side — the hosts edged the visitors 64-36 in possession, 12-5 in shots taken, 11-2 in corners and 4-2 in the shots on target count and while the game deserved a goal, there were none on the day.
While Neroca had fielded an unchanged eleven, Minerva went for as many as seven changes, the crux of them being fielding nine Indian players and just two foreigners in William Opoku and Lancine Toure.
Neroca made their intentions clear from the beginning when in the 7th minute a Subhash cross from the left, fell to Katsumi inside the box and his effort went straight to keeper
Ghanaian Opoku then broke away for Minerva in the 16th minute for his first of many chances in the game, and was close to goal but Eduardo came up with a timely challenge to deny him.
Neroca though dominated the half and the combination of Singham Singh and Katsumi Yusa in particular looked dangerous.
Minerva got the first golden opportunity after the break when a muffed up clearance, this time by Ashok Singh in the Neroca defence, fell invitingly for Prateek Joshi in front of goal. His left-footed effort was kicked to safety by a wrong-footed Lalit Thapa in the Neroca goal.
The hosts however began to take control again soon and forayed regularly into the box. Subhash, Sebastian and Katsumi from the left and Malem and an overlapping Ashok from the right were creating havoc in the Minerva defence.
To top it all Australian defensive midfielder Aryn Williams’ interception and distribution was fantastic.
Sustained pressure resulted in Manandeep being called out for handball inside the box and Chidi blew the resultant spot kick over the bar in the 77th minute of the game.
The combination of Subhash and Katsumi created one last chance in injury time but the latter’s shot from just outside the box went straight to Minerva keeper Bhaskar Roy.