An 86th-minute strike by Aryn Williams sealed a vital 1-0 win for NEROCA FC over Churchill Brothers at the Khuman Lampak Stadium on Wednesday afternoon. Incidentally, the win for the Manipuri outfit makes the title-race more intriguing as they have now pitch-forked Minerva Punjab FC at the top.
Bishorjit Singh continued in goal for Gift Raikhan’s team due to Lalit Thapa’s long-term injury whereas Felix Chidi was replaced by Nedo Turkovic upfront for NEROCA while Gopi Singh, Saran Singh and Subhash Singh formed the attacking trio behind the forward.
Monday Osagie and Hussain Eldor continued to form the formidable centre-back partnership for the Red Machines that has resulted in their good run of form since the turn of the year. Kalu Ogba, Bektur Talgat, Nicholas Fernandes and Dawda Ceesay all started the game as Alfred Fernandes went all-out for three points.
NEROCA had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead as early as the second minute in the game. Tondonba delivered a stupendous cross into the box from the right which Aryn Williams got his head to within six-yards from goal. However, James Kithan’s powerful fists denied the midfielder the chance to put his team into an early lead.
First-half substitute Israil Gurung caused havoc inside the box soon after coming on when he found Nicholas Fernandes with a cross in the 26th minute. Nicholas cuts back a looping ball for Ceesay to head down into the path of Dawda Ceesay whose venomous shot at goal should have hit the net if not for a wonderful block by Kiatamba to prevent danger.
A minute later, Nicholas Fernandes missed a sitter. Britto’s pass had the Churchill Brothers winger within three yards infront of goal but the latter opted for an audacious backheel flick that went awry.
At the other end, Williams failed to beat Kithan one-on-one after the midfielder snatched possession from Hussain Eldor at the edge of the box.
Both sides continued to create chances but were unlucky with their finishing throughout the game. Raikhan replaced Turkovic with Sushil Singh mid-way through the second half and Vorbe’s cross into the box presented the substitute with a very good chance to head the ball towards goal but his attempt was well wide.
Aryn Williams finally found luck infront of goal in the 86th minute. Saran Singh’s long ball was chested down by the midfielder before sending an unbeatable effort past Kithan that ultimately sealed full points for NEROCA.
The win takes NEROCA FC’s tally to 31 points in 16 games whereas second-placed Minerva Punjab FC are two points shy having played two games less. East Bengal have also made a strong comeback into the title-race with a stupendous victory yesterday which took their tally to 26 points from 14 games.
Churchill Brothers will travel to Coimbatore for a Chennai City FC test on February 17 whereas NEROCA FC will host Mohun Bagan in their final home game of the I-League season on the following day.