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Minerva Punjab earn fighting draw against reigning champions Bengaluru

Written by: Srinivasan

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Kamalpreet Singh earned a point for his team late on in the match...

Bengaluru FC were held to a 1-1 draw at home against I-League minnows Minerva Punjab FC at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. The Blues took the lead through skipper Sunil Chhetri before Minerva pulled one back 12 minutes before regular time.

The reigning I-League champions returned to their home venue after a gruelling 2 weeks which saw them pick up 1 point in 3 games in the I-League. Minerva Punjab on the other hand picked up 4 points from a possible 6 and had their tails up. The newbies had a rough start to the season which saw them being thrashed at the hands of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Albert Roca rang in the changes with an all India centre half pairing of Sandesh Jhingan and Salam Ranjan Singh with Sena Ralte and Harmanjot Khabra on the flanks. CK Vineeth started up front and hoped to test the imposing Minerva centre half pairing of Loveday Okechukwu and Kareem Nurain.

Surinder Singh on the other hand went with a compact 4-3-3 with youngster Anirudh Thapa at the base of midfield. The U-22 international was sublime in the game against Mumbai and Singh hoped that he would be able to face up to the likes of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sunil Chhetri.

Both sides took time to size each other up in the early stages of the game. The game nearly burst into life when CK Vineeth was sent tumbling down with a tackle from the back by Anirudh Thapa, but the referee waved play on as he felt that the midfielder got the ball. Cameron Watson’s subsequent corner found Sunil Chhetri on Minerva custodian Arnab Das’ far post. The India captain’s volley was well struck and equally well saved by Arnab. Bengaluru struggled to create their chances as the Minerva side cut off spaces very effectively and kept Eugeneson Lyngdoh on a leash.

The champions’ best chance came when Sena Ralte’s free kick was headed onto Chhetri’s path whose fierce shot struck the post before being hacked clear. The visitors were a danger on the break as the front 3 of Baoringdao Bodo, Victor Amobi and David Nghaite were constantly harrying the Bengaluru centre halves. The defence were nervy as they tried to play out from the back and this served as a cue for the Minerva front 3 to press the defenders into losing possession. The visitors had a shot on target of their own when Kareem Nurain’s fierce shot from a free kick just shaved the top of Amrinder’s goal.

The second half began with a slight tactical change from Bengaluru as Chhetri played more centrally alongside Vineeth while Eugeneson took the captain’s place on the left flank. The move had its effect as Chhetri started to influence things more and his combination play with Vineeth started to pose problems for the Minerva defence.

The deadlock was finally broken when Udanta Singh produced a moment of inspiration as he nut mugged Minerva left back Arashpreet and found CK Vineeth on the left hand side of the box who laid onto Chhetri whose low shot found the back of the net.

Roca’s half time team talk clearly worked as the Blues began to fashion chances with Lenny Rodrigues and Harmanjot Khabra getting their shots on target.

Udanta Singh had finally grown into the game as he constantly beat Arashpreet Singh in his wide position. Minerva brought on Ivan Filatov for Victor Amobi in an attempt to trouble Jhingan and Salam. However, they were unable to provide service to the Kazakh international. Albert Roca smelt blood and brought on Seiminlen Doungel for Vineeth.

However the visitors soon were on level terms in the 78th minute as Kamalpreet Singh’s cross was not dealt with well by the Bengaluru defence and ended up in the back of the net.

The Blues hauled off Sena Ralte and brought in Mandar Rao Desai to add more attacking impetus to the team. Udanta Singh continued to be the catalyst on the right side as he was fouled perilously close to the Minerva penalty box. Watson’s free kick found Chhetri whose low shot was saved by Arnab.

Roca pushed Jhingan forward as an auxiliary centre forward but the visitors held on for a confidence boosting draw as Bengaluru still search for answers ahead of another spell on the road when they take on Aizawl, Mumbai, Minerva and Chennai City before the titanic clash against East Bengal at home.

 

Published: Sat Feb 11, 2017 10:18 PM IST

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