Bengaluru: Bengaluru FC’s win-less run in the I-league extended to four matches as Minerva Punjab FC held the defending champions to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
A late own goal from Sandesh Jhingan cancelled out Sunil Chhetri’s opener as BFC’s hopes for a title challenge was dealt a strong uppercut.
The Sree Kanteerava Stadium was bouncing just three weeks ago but there was few hints of that on this day as the home side continued their lacklustre performance which has them fifth in the table with 11 points from seven games.
With injuries and suspension as long as a grocery list, Jhingan was handed his first start at the centre of the defence while Sena Ralte was brought in at left back in place of Keegan Pereira.
The match started with a classy touch as Minerva players unfurled a banner tipping their hats to the West Block Blues as the best fans in the country.
In what was a rather lethargic affair, BFC had the lion’s share of possession but failed to convert it into goal scoring chances. The visitors for their part stuck to the basics by defending deep with little room between the lines and focusing their attacks on rare counters and set-pieces.
Devoid of the rampant form and vigour with which they started the season, the home side could have had a perfect antidote to their sagging confidence when CK Vineeth stole in behind the defence in the 10th minute. But the Kerala-born striker was stopped in his tracks by Akashpreet Singh who slid in to get his side out of jail.
Chhetri to the fore
Chhetri then almost made the resultant corner count when he peeled off his man only to see his effort saved by Arnab Das Sharma in goal. The captain then struck the crossbar at the half hour mark with a flick off Ralte’s freekick.
Having defended stoutly, thanks mostly to Loveday Okechukwu, Minerva almost dealt the sucker punch late in the half as Kareem Omolaja Nurain’s ferociously driven free-kick grazed over the bar after a slight deflection off the wall.
The hosts added more attacking impetus in the second half and found the breakthrough in the 54th minute. Udanta Singh showed his speed and skill with a sly nutmeg near the half line before powering on, his cross reaching Chhetri via a weak defensive clearance and allowing the striker to place the ball into the net.
Harmanjot Khabra almost added to the lead six minutes later but failed to keep his effort low after a jet-propelled run into the box.
Just when it looked like the luck had turned, the home side conceded eleven minutes from time when Jhingan mishit Kamalpreet’s cross and the ball looped over the goalkeeper into the net.
The JSW-side tried their hardest for the winner in the dying minutes and even went close through Chhetri and substitute Seiminlen Doungel but ultimately failed to change the scoreline. “We have to fight. Sometimes sport is unfair. As long as we can fight for the title mathematically, we will,” said BFC coach Albert Roca after the match....