Shillong, Jan 14: Table toppers Minerva Punjab won their fourth game on the road in this season’s I-League, beating Shillong Lajong 1-0 at the JN Stadium here today.
William Asiedu slammed the ball into the net in the 57th minute for the winner, following a cross from Chencho Gyeltshen.
There was an early first minute chance for Lajong, with Aiman Al-Hagri meeting a nice chip into the box with Minerva’s defenders asleep, but the Yemeni could not quite pull off a threatening shot and Minerva’s goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar easily collected it.
It was Lajong on the up in the first half and that seemed to take Minerva a little by surprise, but the visitors lifted their game considerably in the second half.
The 19th minute produced another good chance for the Reds with a ball forward by Hardycliff Nongbri met by Alen Deory, who then pulled off a shot that clipped a defender. That required Dagar to hurriedly change direction and he managed to block the ball, but the rebound fell into place for Al-Hagri, whose poor shot went straight to Dagar.
That was Al-Hagri’s last real contribution to the game before being substituted in the 25th minute, with a troublesome thigh appearing to be the cause.
For the Punjab side, their lead scorer Gyeltshen was the obvious target-man, but he had a strong line of defenders constantly shadowing him, whether it was the physically dominating Laurence Doe, who came back to the SLFC team after injury, or the nimble Kenstar Kharshong.
The hosts had the edge in the first half, but found it impossible to get the breakthrough. There was plenty to keep the 5,800-strong partisan crowd interested, however, like the long-range attempt by Nongbri that was on target, but clipped a defender on its way out, which elicited a collective sigh from the stands.
Gyeltshen was even more of a threat in the second half, trying to find his way through on the left flank. This paid off royally in the 57th minute with his cross finding Asiedu open in the box for the latter to pump the ball into the back of the net.
On the hour mark it was the turn of Abdoulaye Koffi to almost bag a goal for Lajong, but he took far too many touches right in front of goal, allowing the opposition defenders to crowd him out.
Minerva continued to press for more goals and in the 65th minute substitute Girik Khosla almost doubled the lead after a through ball was played to him by Gyeltshen, but the flick off the No. 11 just went wide.
The hosts refused to give up, and with less than 10 minutes left on the clock, Dagar made two rapid saves to keep Minerva in front and eventually giving them the full three points, which takes them to 22, four ahead of second-placed East Bengal.