Punjab FC came from behind on the back of a Dipanda Dicka hattrick, to earn a 3-2 victory over Neroca FC of Manipur in their Hero I-League match at the Guru Nanak Stadium, in Ludhiana, on Wednesday.
All but Dicka’s winning goal came in the first half. Punjab now have 17 points from 10 games, and are three points behind league leaders Mohun Bagan, who also have a game in hand. Neroca, having a disappointing season by their standards, will remain on eighth place with eight points from nine completed games now.
Cameroonian striker Dipanda Dicka is also now the sole top scorer of the league with eight goals to his name. This was his first hat-trick of the season and also the first of the 13th Hero I-League.
Gift Raikhan of Neroca fielded new signing Philip Adja Tetteh of Ghana to partner Malian Boubacar Diara up front while bringing on Ousmane Diawara at the back as Dhananjoy Singh sat out of the last game. Both his replacements would have contrasting effects on the game later on.
Yan Law, the Punjab coach, was forced to bench Brazilian Danillo, replacing him with Nirmal Chetri. Munmun also made the cut with Yumnam Raju sitting out.
Makan Chothe had the first clear chance at goal for Punjab as early as the 2nd minute of the game when a Cavin Lobo ball found him one-on-one with the keeper, but a heavy first touch was enough for Trinidadian keeper Marvin Devon Phillip to come out and collect.
Neroca took the lead in the 4th minute when Varun Thokchom’s audacious, yet delectable back-flick from the near post off a corner, completely foxed the Punjab defence and keeper Kiran Limbu in goal. They struck again in the 20th minute, this time thanks to a fatal back-pass by Liberian defender Teah Dennis.
It was collected half-way by Philip Tetteh, to the horror of a frantically onrushing Limbu and promptly deposited over the keeper into the back of the net.
The double-strikes were enough for Yan Law to immediately bring on Brazilian front-man Teixeira Junior in place of Chote.
Their urgency brought Neroca’s Siam Hangal a booking for a foul on the Cameroonian Hero of the Match Dicka as well as a free-kick in a dangerous position outside the box. Dicka did not let the opportunity go and curled a beauty past the wall and away from a fully stretched Marvin to bring the hosts well and truly back into the game.
If there was any doubt, Dicka put them to rest with a second just before the lemon break. Off another set-piece, Sanju Pradhan floated one into the box for Dicka to this time rise above all including ahead of the keeper, to head towards goal. It bounced off Marvin and went in, much to the delight of home fans.
If one thought the second half held much promise, one was to be disappointed as the pace and urgency of both sides dropped.
There were two chances of note. First, when Samuel Shadap’s stinging strike from 30 yards out beat Marvin and hit the post for the hosts and then Tetteh was off on a run in the 77th minute and his shot from well inside the box could not beat the keeper.
With the game petering out towards a draw, Limbu’s long hoik up the field seemingly bounced harmlessly inside the Neroca half. As the ball made its way towards the box, Malian centre-back Ousmane Diawara completely misread the bounce and Dicka pounced on it before the keeper could, to tap it past him into the net. It rounded off a stellar day in office.
Punjab FC are now on a nine-game unbeaten streak.