Papa Diawara's 65th-minute header helped Punjab FC register a narrow 1-0 win over NEROCA to move to the second spot in the I-League table in Kalyani, West Bengal on Monday. (More Football News)
Out of the top-six race and looking to grab vital points in their effort to save themselves from relegation, NEROCA started the game on an attacking note.
The Manipur-based club had a golden opportunity to take the lead as early as in the seventh minute when Jiteshwor Singh pounced on an error from Punjab goalkeeper Kiran Limbu, who, however, made a good save from a tight angle.
Subash Singh Singham and Songpu Singsit caused havoc for the Punjab FC defence. However, plenty of chances were missed.
In the 14th minute, NEROCA were given another opportunity to take the lead when Judah Garcia was released onto the goal. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Garcia timed his shot straight into Kiran Limbu's legs.
The first chance for Punjab FC came in the 19th minute when Papa Diawara's header off a Samad Ali cross was easily saved by the opposition goalkeeper.
But the best chance of the match fell to Aphaoba Singh for Punjab FC in the 31st minute. A long ball from the midfield caught the NEROCA defence napping and Aphaoba ran straight onto goal. The midfielder, however, volleyed the shot straight down the keeper's throat.
In the 38th minute, Akbar Khan's shot from inside the box rattled Punjab's post as NEROCA came inches close to taking the lead.
In the 53rd minute, Papa Diawara rattled the post with his acrobatic shot from inside the box. But Papa had to wait to open the scoring.
In the 65th minute, Joseba Beitia's free-kick from the left flank found Papa Diawara inside the box and the Sengalaese headed the ball into the back of the net to hand Punjab FC the lead.
For all the chances that they created in the first half, NEROCA were left reeling after conceding the goal. However, the team did not give up and pressed for the equaliser.
Punjab FC's defensive pairing, however, held their opponents at bay.