Late strikes from Dipanda Dicka, Thoiba Singh and Sergio Barboza helped hosts Punjab FC beat defending champions Chennai City FC 3-1 in a thrilling I-League encounter in Ludhiana on Tuesday.

The hosts took the lead through substitute Dipanda Dicka in the 78th minute before Pedro Manzi equalized for the visitors in the 85th minute.

However, Punjab (formerly known as Minerva FC) were rewarded for their sheer persistence, through late goals from Thoiba and Barboza to register their first win of the season.

Punjab head coach Yan Law made a host of changes from his side that drew 1-1 at home with East Bengal. Anwar Ali returned to the line-up after having served his one-match suspension. Dicka started on the bench while Jason Hart returned to the eleven.

Akbar Nawas, on the other hand, fielded a conventional 4-3-3, looking to cause trouble to the Punjab full-backs. He made only one change from his Chennai City line-up that won 1-0 at home against Trau FC, with Shem Martin Eugene starting in place of Fito Miranda.

Both sides kicked-off proceedings with serious attacking intent, looking to capitalise on the slightest of lapses. In the ninth minute, it was Punjab who came close to taking the lead. A deflected Calvin Lobo attempt on goal almost wrong-footed Chennai goalkeeper Nauzet Garcia Santana but the Spaniard did well to recover and make the save.

Punjab were threatening while in possession, stitching together forward passes while Chennai displayed a calmer approach by playing out from the back.

Dicka was introduced in the second half having replaced Girik Mahesh Khosla in the 56th minute. The substitution paid dividends, when in the 78th minute, Dicka leapt highest to meet a corner from Sanju Pradhan, as Punjab took the lead with twelve minutes to play.

The visitors, despite falling behind, didn’t give up the chase. In the 85th minute, a delivery into the box was met by Manzi, and he made no mistake in finishing it with fine aplomb to level the scores.

Punjab had now conceded a late equaliser for the second game running, but the complexion of the match turned on its head soon. A late scramble in the Chennai City box was fully capitalised on by Thoiba to restore his side’s lead.

The icing on the cake was added in the first minute of stoppage time. With four minutes added on, Makan Winkle Chote found himself in some space on the right flank which prompted him to deliver one inside the box, and the delivery was met spectacularly by a diving header from Barboza, who made it 3-1 for the hosts in spectacular fashion.

The win takes Punjab FC to the fifth place in the I-League table with four points, while Chennai City slipped to sixth spot.

East Bengal pick up first win

East Bengal earned their first win of this I-League season by outplaying Neroca FC 4-1 in front of a heart-broken 20,000 crowd at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Tuesday.

Jaime Colado (21st and 52nd) converted twice from the penalty spot while Juan Mera (33rd) and Marcus Espada (65th) also found the target. Bou Bacar Diara scored the consolation goal for the Oranges in the 31st minute.

The determination of the red and gold brigade was evident right from the start. First, Juan Mera’s cross just eluded Santos Colado and within the next few seconds, Santos’ cross was headed by Marcos, but feebly, posing no problem for Neroca keeper Marvin Philip.

In the 19th minute, the ball seemed to have found the back of Neroca net after a last touch by Taryk Sampson but it was disallowed by the referee later.

In the very next minute, Juan Mera was brought down by Shaikhom Ronald Singh inside the penalty box and the referee pointed to the dreaded spot without any hesitation. Colado stepped up and made no mistake in giving the visitors the lead.

Gift Raikhan’s side, having fallen behind, pressed hard in pursuit of an equaliser and were duly rewarded not long after.

In the 31st minute, Taryk’s long pass found Chanso Horam who did well to keep the ball in play and squeezed in a perfect cross for Bou Bacar Diara, who just tapped in the ball home for Neroca to draw the parity.

The game kept turning on its head, as it was East Bengal who regained their lead just two minutes later. Marcos was brought down just on the edge of the Neroca penalty box and Colado scored from the free-kick.

Just seven minutes after resumption, a handball by a Neroca player inside the penalty box from a move by Espada gave the red and golds another spot-kick, which was converted by Colado again, making it 3-1 for the Kolkata outfit.

In the 65th minute, Pintu Mahata’s cross beat an outstretched Marvin Philip to find an unmarked Marcus, who headed in an easy goal to further extend East Bengal’s lead to 4-1.

Minutes later, East Bengal had a chance for their fifth goal, when Abhishek Ambekar’s powerful shot was blocked by Marvin Philip.

After Tuesday’s win, East Bengal climbed to the third spot with five points from three matches, while Neroca stayed at the seventh spot with three points.