Enrique Esqueda scored the solitary goal of the match.

Reigning champions Minerva Punjab hosted East Bengal at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in a crucial I-League fixture. The Red and Gold Brigade needed all three points to stay in the title race, chasing Chennai City FC.

After an underwhelming first half where both sides failed to take their chances, it was East Bengal who struck first blood via a stunning left-footed strike from Enrique Esqueda late in the 75th minute. Esqueda’s solitary goal was enough for the Red and Gold Brigade to bag all three points and also keep them alive in the title race.

5. Is Kalif Alhassan the cure to Minerva Punjab’s persistent midfield problems

The latest addition to Minerva Punjab’s side, Kalif Alhassan has put on a tremendous shift for the Warriors late in the final matches of the league. Although the reigning champions have had a difficult season, the Ghanaian has been the shining light after joining late.

The 28-year-old is a powerful midfielder and puts in a very high shift and also complimented the likes of Mahmoud Al Amnah and Juan Quero Barrasso. After trying out several foreigners in the destroyer role, it is safe to say that with Kalif Alhassan, Minerva have finally found their man in midfield.

4. Lack of a proper striker hampering Minerva Punjab’s attacking moves?

Minerva Punjab started without a conventional striker and the likes of Al Amna, Juan Quero and Moinuddin Khan were taking turns to play as the number nine. Amna and Quero’s understanding and one-touch passing caused problems for the East Bengal backline but the absence of a conventional forward was surely hampering their chances in the final third.

Coach Sachin Badhadhe had the services of Roland Bilala but he decided to keep him on the bench. Bilala came on late in the game and was looking like a threat in the final third with his physical prowess and challenged the likes of Salam Ranjan Singh and Johnny Acosta in front of goal. Playing him from the start could have made a difference for the Warriors.

3. Did East Bengal miss Jobby Justin’s poaching skills?

The presence of Jobby Justin was sorely missed

Despite winning the match and staying in the title race, the Red and Gold Brigade definitely missed the services of their talismanic Jobby Justin who is suspended by the AIFF for his spat against Aizawl defender Kareem in the last home game. The visitors created a lot of chances in front of goal but the absence of a goal poacher was evident in the attack. Jobby Justin also compliments Enrique Esqueda pretty well. Although the latter scored the only goal in the game he must have missed his fellow teammate with whom he shares a great understanding.

The Kerala born striker has scored nine goals in this campaign and has been East Bengal ray of hope upfront and now missing someone like him was a big blow for Alejandro Menendez and the Red and Gold Brigade.


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2. Did Sachin Badhadhe’s over defensive mentality come back to haunt Minerva Punjab?

The Warriors were defensive throughout the match

The reigning champions are going through a difficult season this time out, and coach Sachin Badhadhe fielded a decent side against the Red and Gold Brigade. The Warriors were defensive throughout the first exchanges of the match and were looking to churn out a draw from the tough fixture. The likes of Jorge Caicedo and Arashpreet were brilliant in keeping the East Bengal forwards at bay but they could not hold on for long as Esqueda’s late strike won the game for the visitors.

Minerva Punjab allowed East Bengal to control the game in midfield as they created several chances before Esqueda scored late on in the 75th minute. The Warriors could have been a bit more positive in attack instead of sitting back and defending from the start.

1. Was this Rakshit Dagar’s best performance for East Bengal this season?

The East Bengal custodian was against his former side, Minerva Punjab with whom he won the I-League title last season. Dagar has been heavily criticised by the pundits and even by the fans due to inconsistent performances throughout the season.

There were a lot of moments in this season when Dagar has looked shaky and invited more danger to the East Bengal backline. But against Minerva things were completely different. He kept out a brilliant strike from Kalif Alhassan’s late freekick and was brilliant with his judgement and game reading. This was definitely his best performance in East Bengal colours.