Gnohere Krizo scored the winner for the visitors against the defending champions.
In the biggest upset of the 12th Hero I-League season so far, debutants Real Kashmir FC registered a solitary-goal victory against their hosts Minerva Punjab FC at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula on Wednesday afternoon.
Ivorian beanpole of a striker Gnohere Krizo, got the game’s only goal in the second half to stun the champions, who otherwise played the better football on the day. Real Kashmir bagged full three points while Minerva now have one point from two games after drawing their opener against Churchill Brothers FC Goa.
The game which heralded the beginning of Game Week Two of the 12th Hero I-League, did not reach dizzying heights as Real Kashmir understandably began with a defensive approach and the defending champions, despite creating some gilt-edged chances, failed to score, an area which they will have to urgently look into, if they have to reach even near the levels of last year.
Minerva began the game with Irish coach Paul Munster effecting a couple of changes from the opener against Churchill Brothers. Youngster Makan Winkle Chothe got a start in place of Nongdamba Naorem and so did Ivorian striker Alexandre.
Scotsman David Robertson, the Real Kashmir gaffer opted to go in with a five-man backline consisting of captain Loveday Enniyana and the experienced Dharamraj Ravanan, who played for Chennai City last year.
He also had his son Mason Robertson, Goan Brian Mascarenhas and local boy Muhammad Hammad to bolster his defence at the start of the game. Other Local Kashmiris who made the starting line-up were midfielders Farhan Ganie and Danish Farooq. The 6 ft 7 inches Ivorian Gnohere Krizo was the lone striker upfront with Bilal manning the Kashmir woodwork.
Minerva’s Ghanaian forward William Opoku had the first good chance of the game just before the quarter of an hour mark, when an excellent ball from Amandeep, from inside the Minerva half, found Opoku in the clear in the Kashmir box with a defender on his shoulder. Opoku trapped and fired only for Hero of the Match Bilal to bring about the first of his many good saves on the day to deny Minerva the lead.
Opoku combined well with youngster Makan Chothe on a couple of occasions but the youngster was once caught offside and on the other occasion took too much time with the ball. They finished the half with a couple of corners, from one of which defender Lancine Toure connected with a good header from close but Bilal was up to it again.
Minverva’s sense of urgency was evident at the beginning of the second half as in the first three minutes they had two excellent chances to score. In the first, Ivorian Alexandre’s powerful shot from inside the box was tipped over by Bilal and hit the bar and then Opoku’s powerful drive from outside the box brought about another save by Bilal.
Munster rang in the changes quick and fast, bringing in youngsters Nongdamba Naorem, Dilliram Sanyasi and Hitova Ayemi to inject more pace and flair into the game, but the Kashmir defence held solid.
Then, in a subtle change of tactics, David Robertson brought in midfielder Vicky Meitei in place Hammad, bolstering his midfield for a defender. The move paid dividends as in the 74th minute, quite against the run of play, off a free kick inside the Minerva half, Krozi got hold of the ball inside the Minerva box and turned and unleashed a powerful drive which beat Minerva goalie Bhaskar Roy at the near post to go in.
The team from Jammu and Kashmir held on until the final whistle despite some enterprising forays from the champion to continue their fairytale which began with their winning the second division I-League last year to get promoted as the first ever team from the state to ever play in top-flight Indian football.