History was made in the first-ever Imphal derby as Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) FC registered a magnificent comeback victory over their city rivals, NEROCA FC at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium on Wednesday, January 8.
Boubacar Diarra gave the visitors the lead in the 9th minute before Naocha Singh equalised for TRAU in the 41st minute. Krishnananda Singh headed home for the hosts in the 64th minute, which turned out to be the match-winner.
Both sides made three changes each, with TRAU FC head coach Dimitris Dimitriou opting to start with Krishnannanda Singh and Naocha Singh upfront to partner Princewill Emeka. Geron Augustus Williams also found a place in the midfield three, but the backline remained unchanged.
Gift Raikhan recalled Togo forward Zico Sekle to his NEROCA starting XI, pairing up with Boubacar Diarra in the attack. Young midfielder Jiteshwar Singh was also named to start, ahead of Gaty Kouami. Zodingliana replaced Khanngam Horam, and found a place next to Khaminthang Lhungdim in the middle of the park.
The game truly lived up to its billing of a derby right from kick-off. In the second minute, TRAU goalkeeper Mithun Samanta came off his line to clear a lobbed delivery but made a total hash of it, as his attempted clearance fell straight to the feet of Chanso Horam, who saw the goal gaping and chipped it over the keeper, but Abhishek Das was at the right place to head it clear off the goal line.
Neroca’s persistent pressing paid dividends quite early. In the ninth minute, a Sushil Meitei delivery inside the box was met with a ferocious left-footed volley from Boubacar Diarra, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance as Gift Raikhan’s men struck first blood in the Imphal derby.
TRAU didn’t waste any time in getting back on their feet and almost equalised not very long after. In the 17th minute, a beautifully threaded pass by Phalguni Singh put Naocha Singh through on goal and with only the keeper to beat, hit it straight at him.
The hosts kept piling on the pressure. In the 32nd minute, Princewill Emeka displayed some exquisite footwork with some smart twists and turns, which left young defender Taryk Sampson completely at bay, which allowed the TRAU skipper to get his shot away but Marvin Devon Phillip between the Neroca sticks was alert to the danger and made the save.
In the 41st minute, it was Emeka again with some neat footwork on the left flank and this time, he delivered a cross which was met inside the six-yard box by an outstretched leg of Naocha Singh, and with the near post completely gaping, TRAU found their equaliser going into half-time.
The second half resumed with the same intensity and rigour, as Gift Raikhan wasted no time in making his first change. In the 48th minute, Gaty Kouami was brought on at the expense of Zico Sekle, who had a quiet first half. The change signalled a switch in formation, from a classical 4-4-2 to a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1, leaving Boubacar Diarra as the sole striker upfront.
In the 64th minute, the stadium erupted into a frenzy of celebration, as TRAU took the lead through Krishnananda Singh, who soared the highest to head home a corner by Angousana Luwang, leaving Devon Phillip in goal stranded.
TRAU almost added a third, which would have served as the cherry on the icing on the top, but Patrick Uche’s freekick from about 30 yards out ricocheted off the woodwork, after Devon Phillip had initially gotten a fingertip to the goal-bound attempt.
Neroca had one last opportunity in the dying stages of the game, when a beautifully weighted Sushil Meitei set-piece fell to Diarra, but this time, he misjudged the flight of the ball in what would have been an easy header.
The referee blew for full-time as the Khuman Lumpak Stadium bore witness to scenes and celebrations that will remain etched forever in the history of Tiddim Road Athletic Union, and the memory of every Indian football aficionado in general, as they register their first-ever Hero I-League victory with a sensational comeback victory in the first-ever Imphal derby.
The victory takes TRAU to ninth place in the Hero I-League standings, one above Neroca, who drop to tenth.
Wahengbam Angousana Luwang of TRAU FC was adjudged to be the Hero of the Match.