East Bengal ensured that the I-League title race will go down to the wire as they defeated Minerva Punjab 1-0 at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula on Sunday.
With this win, the Red and Golds are now up to 39 points from 19 games, a point lesser than Chennai City, who have 40. The table toppers, who bested East Bengal home and away, still have the advantage in the title race on account of their superior head-to-head record.
Enrique Esqueda’s 75th-minute strike was enough to hand the visitors the full points in their penultimate I-League encounter.
With Jobby Justin suspended, East Bengal started with Esqueda up front. Toni Dovale and Salam Ranjan Singh came in, replacing the suspended Borja Gomez and Brandon Vanlalremdika. For Minerva, Mahmoud Al-Amna took to the field against his previous club.
The first half passed without much goal-mouth action as the score remained 0-0 after 45 minutes. Jamie Santos had the best chance of the half, hitting the crossbar for East Bengal in the 39th minutes.
It was Laldanmawia Ralte with another assist as his header took a bounce before Esqueda lashed the half-volley home past Arshdeep Singh in the Minerva goal.
East Bengal held on for the win and now leaders Chennai City will be anxiously looking over their shoulders, after a 2-3 loss to Churchill Brothers quashed their hopes of an early celebration.
For East Bengal, the equation is simple. They must defeat Gokulam Kerala and hope that Chennai City fail to do so against Minerva Punjab on Saturday, in order to claim a first I-League title in 15 years.
The final round of games take place on 9 March.