Relegation was confirmed for NEROCA FC as the Gift Raikhan-coached side slumped to yet another defeat, losing by a solitary goal to nil against Sudeva Delhi FC at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium in Kalyani, West Bengal on Tuesday (March 16, 2021).
Gursimrat Singh Gill’s header in added time of the first half proved to be the difference between the two sides in a match where NEROCA had largely themselves to blame for the defeat. Had they taken their chances, they could have won the match by a comfortable margin.
Coming on the back of a 0-1 loss to Aizawl FC in their last match, NEROCA needed to gather all three points in order to stand a chance of taking the relegation battle to the final matchday. The Gift Raikhan-coached side played with desperation from the opening minutes of the match, in their quest to take the early lead.
Although NEROCA committed bodies in the attack, they once again lacked creativity in the final third and were restricted to rotating the ball around the box. Sudeva Delhi FC, meanwhile, played on the counter and Kean Lewis’ crosses inside the box from the flanks tested the NEROCA defence time and again. In the 16th minute, Sudeva Delhi FC had their first opportunity on goal when Mahesh Singh tested his luck from distance. The strike, although accurate, lacked venom and was easily collected by the opposition goalkeeper.
But perhaps the best opportunity of the first half fell to Judah Garcia in the 19th minute. After the forward danced past the opposition defensive line, he was found with a low cross from the flanks. Garcia failed to connect from close range as Sudeva Delhi survived a scare.
With both teams creating multiple half-chances to take the lead, the match became an end-to-end affair. In the 38th minute, NEROCA once again lacked bodies up front as a Judah Garcia attempt to find a teammate on the back post went to waste. With Sudeva pressing higher up the park, possession became rare for NEROCA as they were pinned in their own half.
All of Sudeva’s attacking play finally reaped dividends in the added time of the first half when Gursimrat Singh Gill headed the ball home after Shaiborlang Kharpan had robbed possession off the NEROCA custodian before releasing a cross to find Gill’s head. The half-time scoreline read 1-0 in Sudeva Delhi’s favour.
Early in the second half, Sudeva Delhi FC’s goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar made some good saves to deny NEROCA the chance to grab the equalizer and it once again seemed like NEROCA ran out of steam.
Sudeva Delhi FC took advantage of the slump and geared back into control of the game as they dominated possession once more. In the 62nd minute, Kean Lewis had an opportunity to extend Sudeva’s lead but failed to make decent contact with the ball from inside of the box as NEROCA survived a major scare.
Opportunities did come for NEROCA, but as seen throughout the course of the season, they went to waste. In the 68th minute of the match, Romtan Singh’s cross from the right flank found Khanngam Horam on the far post. With ample time and space, Horam’s header looped over the goal as another opportunity went begging for NEROCA.
Three minutes later, NEROCA missed a sitter. Horam’s header found substitute Ajay Singh inside the box, but instead of tapping it home from close range, Ajay fluffed his effort and forced goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar to make a save with his legs.
NEROCA tried hard to get the equaliser but eventually failed in their attempts as the full-time scoreline read 1-0 in favour of Sudeva Delhi FC, with Gursimrat Singh Gill being adjudged the Hero of the Match. With this result, NEROCA FC have confirmed relegation with one match still to go. The side from Manipur now lay rock-bottom of the league with eight points from 13 games. While they are up against their relegation rivals Chennai City in their last match of the season, the latter have a four-point advantage.