Minerva Punjab on Thursday triumphed against all odds less than a year after a miracle by another underdogAizawl FC, concluding an I-League season peppered with twists and turns never seen or felt before. The 2017-18 league was down to the most dramatic final day in the competition's history with as many as four teams, including old guards Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, gunning for the title.
Debutants Neroca FC, surprisingly, were the other contenders. For a club that is only in its second season in top-flight, the title triumph would easily qualify as some achievement.
In the process, they created history by becoming the first team from North India to win the Hero I-League.
William Asiedu Opoku's goal was enough to seal the title for Minerva Punjab, who beat Churchill Brothers by a solitary goal. This is a landmark moment in Indian football where two relegation threatened teams have won back to back I-League titles. Last year it was Aizawl, this year it is Minerva Punjab from Chandigarh.
Churchill Brothers, on the other hand, got relegated as this defeat demotes them to the second division. Minerva Punjab's attacking trio of Chencho Gyeltshen, William and Girik Khosla combined well to put Churchill's defence in jeopardy.
Chencho almost scored the opener in the 8th minute when a low Khosla cross wasn't dealt with properly by Osagie Monday, giving the Bhutanese ace a chance, but he couldn't make full use of it.
Minutes later Akash Sangwan had an opportunity to score from the left but his shot went straight into the keeper's hands. The moment finally came in the 16th minute when William converted from point-blank range after a rebound from Khosla's shot, which fell right into his feet.
William had another great chance in the injury time of first half but he couldn't control his effort and lost possession. The first half ended with the home side leading 1-0.
The second half started with a flurry of attacks from Churchill Brothers who tried their best to come back but got unlucky on many occasions.
In the 49th minute, Sangwan's pinpoint corner kick met Chencho header but his effort went just wide of the target.
Churchill Brothers almost scored in the 51st minute when Britto got a chance from just six yards out but his weak effort hit the keeper. Ceesay took a long shot in the 54th minute but Kiran was there to save comfortably.
Monday tried his luck in the 59th minute but his wayward short was nowhere near the target. The big chance for Churchill came in the 61st minute when Ceesay created space inside the box to set himself for a shot but the ball just went over the crossbar.
Minerva should have doubled their lead in the 64th minute when Kassim Aidara played a one-two with Chencho but Chenchos following cross towards Sangwan, who was unmarked, went out for a goal kick.
In the 65th minute, Britto missed the opportunity of the match so far when he went one on one with the keeper Kiran but Minerva shot-stopper came out quickly to save his side.
In another show of combination play, Chencho was brilliantly set up by William in the 73rd minute in the box but he decided to cut inside and in doing so lost possession.
Minerva centre back Eric Dano got a chance in the 80th minute when he took a shot after a deflected corner kick but his shot was nowhere near target.
Gangandeep Bali got a chance to get his name on the score-sheet but his weak effort didn't trouble the keeper.
(With PTI Inputs)