CHANDIGARH: Title contenders Minerva Punjab will be desperate to avoid third straight defeat when they lock horns with injury-plagued defending champions Aizawl FC in their I-League clash at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula on Monday.
Minerva Punjab, who are sitting on the third spot in the league table with 29 points in 15 matches, can re-write the fairytale script in the same way as it was written by Aizawl FC last year who were considered to be the most unlikely option to triumph the silverware before the league embarked.
The difference, however, between the clubs is that Aizawl FC managed to remain unbeaten at home throughout the season.
However, Minerva Punjab have suffered two back to back defeats at home before welcoming the Highlanders, first to Kingfisher East Bengal on February 13 followed by another humbling to ‘Giant Killers’ Gokulam Kerala, causing a shock among fans and players alike.
Defending champions Aizawl FC, on the other hand, started their season well but then went onto an eight-match winless run which eventually, ended with a comfortable 3-0 victory over young Indian Arrows team.
On being asked to sum up Aizawl FC’s season so far, boss Santosh Kashyap stated, “I think most of the players left the club. New coach, new squad. He (Paulo Menezes) tried his best from his side but again expectations were high as defending Champions. They started well I think but later on, eventually injuries took a toll. Aizawl scored and then conceded goals in later matches.”
“When I took over the team, there were many injuries and lot of mistakes in defending, attacking and transition. So I had to make quick changes. I had to mould 4 sessions into one session”, Kashyap added.
“We almost got the positive result in my first match itself but couldn’t. Finally, we got a 3-0 win over Indian Arrows. Now we are here and I think, we are improving every moment. Our main 8-10 players are out so I am taking all my youngsters. We will play attacking football,” he said.
Minerva Punjab FC’s Head Coach Wangkhem Khogen Singh informed that his team is focusing on the upcoming match as the title is still in their hands regardless of the results elsewhere.
“Tomorrow it will be a very good game as well as a tough one. Their morale is high because they have won the last match against Indian Arrows and we lost the away match against them by 2-1. Now after defeat to Gokulam Kerala, we have to win this match in order to go for the title. We have to take three points. There is no pressure on us but we don’t want to lose the game”, he said.
Minerva’s young playmaker Moinuddin completely denied the fact that complacency cost them two vital matches at home.
“It’s nothing like that. The matches we lost is because of some reasons because we couldn’t perform, rather our opponents were superior on the field. We were not overconfident at all. Our focus is still very much in the title and we’ll remain positive in the next match as well”, he explained.