Panchkula: Minerva Punjab FC jumped to the top of the I-League table with a clinical 2-0 victory over reigning champions Aizawl FC in a crucial encounter at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium here on Monday.
Second-half goals from Akash Sangwan (51st minute) and substitute Bazie Armand (90+6) secured all three points for the Punjab-based side who now have a one-point lead over second-placed Neroca FC with a game in hand. Minerva, after the win, are on 32 points from 16 games.
They play Chennai City FC away on March 2 followed by Churchill Brothers on March 8.
Neroca (31 points from 17 matches) have only one game in hand -- against East Bengal who are also in contention at third position having 29 points from 16 outings.
Coming into the match, Minerva had suffered two consecutive losses. But against Aizawl, the home side dominated the first half in terms of possession as well as the number of attempts on goal.
The first chance for them came in the seventh minute when Chencho Gyeltshen lofted the ball for Gagandeep Bali who was on the run at the edge of the penalty box but the pace in ball was just too much to have a contact.
Chencho tried his luck in the 11th minute with a dummy rank near the box before unleashing his shot which sailed over the crossbar.
William got another chance in the 27th minute when he found himself in an excellent position to score from Kamalpreet`s pinpointed cross but his effort went inches wide of the goalpost.
Aizawl, meanwhile, almost took the lead against the run of play when in-form striker Lalkhawpuimawia missed an opportunity to convert an immaculate cross from Ionescu in the 37th minute.
Minutes later, Chencho missed a header to leave the Aizawl dugout relieved. William missed arguably the easiest one-on-one opportunity against Avilash Paul but his horrible chip went wayward before the referee blew the half-time whistle.
Minerva took a lead early on in the second half when a brilliant combination play between William, Chencho and Akash resulted in the first goal of the match. Incidentally, it was the first goal by the youngster Akash in the premier league of the country. Chencho was left open on the right flank from where he crossed the ball low towards the path of local boy Akash who made no mistake in converting from six yards out.
Aizawl almost scored an own goal in the 63rd minute when Sukhdev`s long throw shook Aizawl`s defence.
A series of injuries to both teams interrupted the flow of play since then. Aizawl had a chance in the 75th minute when Ionescu made his way inside the Minerva box but his powerless shot was blocked by Minerva defenders.
Minerva goalkeeper made a brilliant save in the 85th minute to keep the scoreline unscathed after a series of deflection seriously threatened Minerva`s defence.
Minerva hit the final nail in Aizawl FC`s coffin in the last minute of added time when Bazie, who was introduced to the game only two minutes before, converted William`s cross from handshaking distance.