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Minerva Punjab FC eyeing the I-League title after impressive season

Minerva Punjab FC eyeing the I-League title after impressive season

Sounak Mullick

Published: 13 Feb 2018 8:38 AM GMT
When Aizawl FC lifted the coveted I-League last season, everyone thought the fairy tale script would not be re-written in the near future, but Minerva Punjab is just a step away from recreating history. Making its debut in the top flight last year, they never looked to pose a threat to any of its competitors. Not only that, they were on the verge of being relegated, but a superior goal difference gave them the edge past Mumbai FC. Things could not have been more different for them this season though. A handful of supporters gathered at the opening game of the league when heavyweights Mohun Bagan visited the Guru Nanak Stadium in November last year. Sony Norde's 43
-minute strike was neutralised by substitute Moinuddin Khan just a minute before the end of regulation time. Minerva Punjab FC gained more than a point in that game, the magical touches of Bhutanese recruit Chencho Gyeltshen promised them much more in the future. Since then, they won four back to back matches and all of a sudden the North Indian side was a hot topic in the Indian football circuit. It was the first time that other teams took notice of the rising phenomena. Young talents from their academy blended with foreigners strengthened their squad game by game, it held on to the top position of the standings leaving others far behind.
By the end of the first half of the league, Minerva Punjab FC won 7 out of their 9 matches. Wonder-boy Chencho was the most talked about player in the League and undoubtedly the best buy by any team. Needless to mention the support given by Indian players like Deepak Devyani and Sukhdev Singh and others beside also contributed greatly to the cause. If everyone thought that the initial success was a fluke, the best was yet to come. The Ranjit Bajaj owned team won four away matches on the trot including two in the North-East and the one against Mohun Bagan at their den. This was the first time that Indian football fans hinted a possible title win in favour of Minerva Punjab FC. Hogging the limelight is not always very smooth, as negative publicity also follows you. Earlier this, as reported by Ranjit Bajaj, two of their players were approached for match-fixing. He informed that they were offered handsome amounts by the bookies. Ranjit Bajaj has been pretty loud on social media and also on the field for which he was penalised. In fact, a ban of eight matches was imposed on him for hurling abusive languages at a referee during a game. "On Wednesday, one of our foreign players told me that he had received an approach over Facebook. He had been asked if he would be willing to fix matches for 30 lakh rupees. Or whether he would ask someone to help in fixing games," said Bajaj on January 18. Although after investigations no one was found guilty of any match-fixing allegations. Chencho Gyeltshen
In the midst of all these, Bajaj has become a popular figure in the country and the performance of Minerva highlights him more. Head coach Khogen Singh has been quite calm, doing his work silently. He has done a laudable effort with the little resources the Punjab-based had. But the big reward waits ahead! Kolkata giants East Bengal is the biggest threat to Minerva Punjab's title hopes. The match between the two teams will surely decide which city the trophy is heading too. Following the East Bengal game, Minerva has three home fixtures out of the four, which is a positive sign. It will enhance the chances of clinching their maiden I-League title. From a total of 13 matches played, Minerva Punjab FC has accumulated 29 points with 9 wins and two draws. Four wins in the last five fixtures will definitely be enough for Khogen Singh's boys. But a win or a draw against East Bengal will make the equation easy for them. Leicester City FC won their maiden Premier League title in the second year they got promoted to the top tier, and Aizawl FC also did the same. This is Minerva Punjab FC's second year at the top level, hope you know what I am hinting at!
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