Manipur defeated Gujarat 2-0 in a Group B encounter at the 75th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy, here on Thursday.
In a tightly-contested first half, both teams were unable to find their way but Manipur, after shocking the defending champions had suffered a setback with a loss to Odisha, set the tone for the game.
Manipur’s right side was particularly productive as Singsit and Somishon Shirak both constantly dropped dangerous balls into the area but were unable to break the deadlock in the first half.
Manipur started the second half much like they ended the first, hogging the possession and passing neatly in midfield.
In the 48th minute, Jenish Singh played Sudhir Laitonjam through into the box on the right. The winger was perfectly placed to deliver a cross for his forwards crowding the box. Instead, he chose to shoot, from a tight angle on goal. It required a shot of extreme quality to score, and he was still rising as it hit the top corner of the net. Manipur, finally, had the lead.
From there on Manipur took complete control of the game, intent on ensuring they got all three points. They kept the pressure constantly on Gujarat, shifting flanks, and creating chances at regular intervals.
In the 67th minute, the pressure told, albeit in the most extraordinary way. An innocuous cross was cleared away by Gujarat’s defence only to fall on the head of Shirak on the edge of the box.
The forward headed the ball back into the box to no one in particular. Siddharth Nair messed up a routine clearance to instead volley the ball into his own goal and give Manipur a two-goal advantage.
Raikhan used that half-chance to impress upon his players the necessity for control. Manipur had played just well enough to deserve the points, but even then Gujarat were not prepared to go away easily. In the dying moments, from range, Nair, Avi Amin and Kanani had shots at goal, each missing by narrow margins as Manipur held on for the win. Gujarat, despite two brave and creditable performances, were left with no points to show for it.