Panchkula: East Bengal on Sunday beat Minerva Punjab FC by a solitary goal in their penultimate round match to remain in the title hunt and take the battle for I-League crown down the wire.
Enrique Esqueda scored the winning goal for East Bengal in the 75th minute at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium here.
East Bengal’s win on Sunday meant that the I-League title will be decided on the final match day on Saturday.
With 39 points from 19 matches, East Bengal are just one point behind leaders Chennai City FC (40 points from 19 matches).
The Kolkata giants will need to win their final match against Gokulam Kerala FC in Kozhikhode on Saturday and hope that Chennai City FC either draw or lose against Minerva in Coimbatore on the same day if they want to lift the trophy for the first time.
For Chennai City FC, a win against Minerva at home ground on Saturday will be enough to clinch their maiden I-League crown.
Both the title-deciding matches will be played at the same time at 5pm on Saturday. Holders Minerva, who were out of reckoning for the title long time back, started the game on an attacking note and enjoyed a good spell of possession in the first few minutes, but East Bengal did not allow the hosts an inch in midfield. The game was mostly played in the middle of the park in the first quarter.
East Bengal, with their urgency for a win, did try pressing high but full marks to the organised defence of Minerva, which ensured that the visitors do not get an opportunity to draw first blood.
Esqueda, Santos and Ralte combined well to come close to scoring twice, but some great keeping by Minerva’s Arshdeep and the woodwork played a critical role in ensuring that the first 45 minutes of the game remained goalless.
The second half began with East Bengal taking the initiative to go into the lead, but they could not breach the Minerva defence on most occasions.
Minerva, on the other hand, kept attacking in short bursts through the combination of Juan Quero and Sreyas VG, but failed to find an opportunity to take the lead. East Bengal came really close to scoring on a couple of occasions but some exceptional goalkeeping by Minerva’s Arashdeep ensured that the visitors did not get the elusive goal.
Minerva, who were playing a very organised game, somehow gave way to the visitors, when a wrong clearance saw Enrique Esqueda make no mistake in grabbing the opportunity and find the back of the net in the 75th minute.
After the goal, both the teams played on an attacking note, with Minerva aiming for an equaliser, while East Bengal hoping for a double lead but nothing came out in the final 15 minutes.