Imphal, Manipur: Champions Minerva Punjab FC and Manipur’s Neroca FC played out an exciting draw at the latter’s home in Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium, to deny both a chance to improve their league standings considerably. 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 Hero I-League 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 maintained a high tempo throughout with both teams displaying an urgency to score. Neroca however outscored 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 the hosts 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 William 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 were looking very 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 admirably 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 ever overlapping Ashok Singh from the right were creating havoc in the Minerva defence.
To top it all Australian defensive midfielder Aryn Williams’ interception and distribution was fantastic as has been the case in recent games.
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.