Spaniard Juan Quero Barraso’s stellar strike helped defending champions Minerva Punjab register a 1-0 victory over Neroca FC in the I-League at Panchkula on Saturday.
With the win, Minerva jump to the seventh spot in the points table leapfrogging Aizawl FC, Gokulam Kerala FC and Indian Arrows.
This result ends Minerva’s frustrating winless run after 80 days. The Punjab-based team’s last win came against East Bengal in Kolkata on December 4 last year. Minerva coach Sachin Badadhe opted for a strong attacking line-up with under-18 Elite Youth League star Makan Chothe, Prabhjot Singh, Mahmoud Al Amna and Quero starting in advanced positions.
Debutant Kalif Al Hassan anchored the midfield along with Amandeep Singh as Minerva dominated proceedings from the kick-off. Akash Sangwan had an early chance in the seventh minute of the match when he found space in the left-flank but his cross was gathered with ease by Neroca goalkeeper Lalit Thapa.
Amandeep had a great chance to open the account for Minerva in the 21st minute after being played in by Amna but his shot narrowly missed the post. The home side came close once again in the 41st minute when Amna’s 30-yard shot missed the crossbar by a few inches.
Neroca’s closest chance came in the 43rd minute when Subash Singh found his way through an array of Minerva defenders. Unfortunately, for the visitors, h could not find the back of the net.
The visitors notched up the intensity in the second half as Chencho Gyeltshen, Katsumi Yusa and Aryn Williams all missed chances to take the lead. However, Minerva dominated the proceedings after 15 minutes.
The home side almost took the lead when Chothe’s dangerous cross was converted by second-half substitute Moinuddin Khan. But the midfielder was adjudged offside by the linesman.
The Warriors did not have to wait long for the all-important goal though. Moinuddin’s great ball control in the left wing allowed him to create space and send in a low cross to Quero, who found the back of the net in the 68th minute.
Both sides continued to play free-flowing football for the rest of the half but Minerva held on to their lead to secure all three points.
Minerva will now face East Bengal in their last home fixture on March 3 while Neroca will travel to Kozhikode to face Gokulam Kerala FC on the same day.