Kolkata, Dec 4 (IANS) Defending champions Minerva Punjab FC handed city giants East Bengal their third straight defeat with a narrow 1-0 victory in an I-League encounter at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
Ghanian striker William Opoku netted the winner in the 78th minute after a barren first half.
The result saw Minerva jump to second spot in the league table with 11 points from seven games and cut the gap on surprise league leaders Chennai City FC to six points.
East Bengal, meanwhile, remained eighth with just six points in their kitty from five matches.
They had previously lost to Aizawl FC away and Chennai at home. Minerva continued their winning run after a slow start to their title defence. They had got the better of Indian Arrows in their last tie.
Both teams were sloppy in the first half an hour of play with East Bengal trying to prise open the Minerva defence and the visitors looking to break on the counter.
East Bengal goalkeeper Ubaid CK had an anxious moment just before the half-hour mark when he failed to clear the ball from inside the box with Njoku closing him down, forcing him to chip the ball over his head to Jonny Acosta.
It was a tale of misspasses from both the teams as the first-half drew to a close with neither side looking the likelier to take the lead.
In the second half, Minerva coach Paul Munster brought in Moinuddin Khan and Donatus Edafe for Akash Sangwan and Bala Dahir respectively and the defending champions started dominating the proceedings.
Moinuddin slipped a perfect through ball behind the East Bengal defence for William Opoku who wastefully glided the ball across the face of goal with Edafe on hand to tap it in.
East Bengal also had their chance to nose head three minutes into the hour mark but Esqueda’s screamer from just outside the box was saved by Arshdeep.
Borja Perez then gifted possession to Opoku who set up Edafe but the latter failed to convert from close.
Surprisingly Edafe was replaced soon after the miss despite his enterprise in the final third.
Minerva, though, were rewarded for their industry soon after as Moinuddin’s inch-perfect cross was turned in by Opoku to hand his team the lead and send owner Ranjit Bajaj into delirium. East Bengal custodian Ubaid was at fault too for rushing out of his line to collect the ball.
In second half added time, East Bengal squandered a glorious chance to draw level when Joby Justin saw his header from close range being saved by Arshdeep after Lalram Chullova had teed him up brilliantly.