Last season runners-up NEROCA FC regained that very same position in the 12th I-League points table with a 3-0 victory over Indian Arrows at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Friday.
Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa, Nigerian striker Felix Chidi and midfielder Malemnganba Meitei were on target for the home team as they dished out a thoroughly professional performance to completely outplay the Indian Arrows youngsters.
The win, their first at home this season, have taken NEROCA up to 11 points from seven games, the same as champions Minerva Punjab FC, but NEROCA have the better goal difference to be placed higher up. Indian Arrows remain on the bottom of the pile, having been inflicted with their fifth straight loss in six games.
Both NEROCA’s Spanish coach Manuel Fraile and the Indian Arrows gaffer Floyd Pinto fielded an unchanged eleven from their previous games.
Katsumi Yusa, coming back from injury, started his second straight game and was replaced in the 70th minute while Lalit Thapa was again preferred over Italian Mauro Boerchio in the NEROCA goal.
For the Indian Arrows, Pinto started Boris Singh again in midfield before moving him back again to left back as the game progressed and left Rahim Ali as the lone man upfront. Under-16 import Vikram Pratap Singh also again featured in the starting line-up.
The game began on an even keel with Saran Singh getting on the end of a shot inside the Arrows box the 2nd minute for the hosts, while Rahim Ali for the visitors also missing a clear chance seven minutes later.
Sanjiv Stalin’s corner saw Rahim Ali had a second chance to score in the 24th minute off a Sanjeev Stalin corner, but his header flew across the goal.
NEROCA, however, was slowly beginning to control the game and their efforts bore fruit in the 29th minute as they took the lead through Katsumi Yusa, who registered his first goal of the season. Singham Subash Singh delivered a low cross from the left flank and it was anticipated by the Japanese whose first touch took him away from an onrushing Prabhsukan Gill in the Indian Arrows goal and his second, albeit mistimed and on the turn, saw the ball hobble into the side-netting of the far corner.
Rahul KP then missed a couple of gilt-edged chances in the first half for the Indian Arrows to draw level after having done exceedingly well to get at the end of them.
Brazilian defender Eduardo, who already had scored once in the campaign, had the first chance for the hosts after the break when he rose highest off a Malem free-kick but could not connect properly with his head.
NEROCA’s premiere front-man Felix Chidi then doubled the lead for the home team in the 54th minute with his fourth goal in four games. The Nigerian caught the Indian Arrows defence napping on the counter and broke away with a solo run, coming up with a neat finish from the outstep of his right foot, beating a full-stretched Prabhsukan all ends up.
The Indian Arrows then conceded a third with Malem getting onto the I-League scoresheet for his team for the very first time. Substitute Jitendra Singh it was who gave the ball away on the right flank for Australian Aryn Williams to collect the loose ball and drive into the Arrows box. He then unleashed a measured cross for Malem coming in, to tap in comfortably from close.