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Minerva Punjab FC's youthful side endured a season that recovered after a sluggish start

ONE OF THE FEW TEAMS that had to prepare on a short notice to enter the I-League, Minerva Punjab finished ninth among ten teams in the debut season. With regards to points, Minerva finished level on 13 points with Mumbai FC but were ahead only on goal difference.

Background

Minerva's entry to the I-League was nothing short of an easy entry. Minerva Punjab were I-League Second division runners up of last season. They finished only behind Dempo Sports Club. Joining in the protest of all Goan clubs, Dempo followed suit to withdraw from the top division, leaving the door open for a club to fill up Dempo's spot in the I-League.

Minerva, who were the runners up, were the immediate choice to get the spot. After Dempo along with the other Goan clubs withdrew, AIFF did not immediately announce the clubs that would make it to the I-League and floated a tender to invite corporate teams to bid for entering the I-League. Minerva, in dilemma, whether they would be included by AIFF, applied for the corporate entry to the I-League just to be on the safer side. And finally on December 11, AIFF declared Minerva Punjab would be part of the I-League. So, Minerva Punjab entered the top flight via the corporate route and were exempt from relegation in the first season.

Sluggish start

The first game of the I-League for Minerva Punjab was against fellow newcomers Chennai City FC. It was stalemate as the game saw no goals but plenty of action to suggest the both teams had great potential. The single point from the first league would be the only one in the opening five games. Minerva went on the register back to back four loses after that draw.

As the season went on, the team was slowly transforming from a one that had been unable to score a single goal in the game and conceding goals like floodgates had opened to being able to hold off attacks and manage to create a few attacks of their own.

This took a while to come and finally the sign of progress was seen in the sixth game. Minerva had not scored a goal in that game but kept a clean sheet for the first time since the opening game. This actually marked the comeback and the best phase of Minerva's debut season. Minerva Punjab FC went on a 6 game unbeaten run, securing 10 points on the run.

Minerva Punjab were heavily criticised for the inferior quality of their home pitch. It made the playing the game in such conditions extremely difficult. The team blamed the ground authorities for the damage of the field. Minerva are a team based in Chandigarh but due their own stadium in Ludhiana not being equipped with bucket seats.

Behind closed doors

The team had a few internal issues when Minerva Punjab Technical Director Colm Toal quit over difference of opinion at the club. The technical director was not the only one who moved away from the club. Two players walked away in literal sense when they left the team under strange circumstances. First it was Jewel Raja who left the club in the first few weeks of the season and towards the end the first choice keeper Arnab Das Sharma packed up and left behind the confusion as the reason for leaving.

The owner Ranjit Bajaj had to face the ire of the AIFF when he voiced his opinion about the refereeing decisions. He was banned from the stadium and slapped with a 7 lakh rupees fine.

To look at the brighter side of things, Minerva did end the season on a high as they snatched a draw from DSK Shivajians in their last match. Being 3-0 down, Minerva came back to finish the game strongly and earning a well played draw to see the final score at 4-4.

 

Final word

A team that was among the few last minute entrants in the I-League, who believed in the showcasing of the power of the academy and putting it to the test. The youth proved to be a bit too inexperienced at the highest level in the country when it came to delivering the good for the club. But considering the first season, it does give the club lots of lessons to take note of. Among those is definitely the signing of experienced players in all departments. Being part of one of the highest scoring games of the seasons namely the away victory against Churchill Brothers and their last game of the season, Minerva could have been on the winning side had they fixed problems of conceding fewer goals.

The midfield needed a better possession ability, often this heart of the team would be bypassed to play long balls from the backline to the forwards. Despite creating the better chances in the game failed to be lethal with their finishing and that was where they lost two or often three points in the game.

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