Imphal, Manipur: NEROCA FC notched up two goals to earn a victory against Kolkata giants and former champions Mohun Bagan, in an entertaining 12th Hero I-League encounter at Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium on Friday.
Brazilian defender Eduardo opened the scoring for the home side in the first half before Bagan’s Ugandan striker Henry Kisekka brought them back into the game in the second half. But minutes later, Australian midfielder Aryn Williams deflected one into the Bagan net to secure three points for the hosts.
The result takes Neroca (18 points from 10 games) to the top of the table for now, despite the fact that both Chennai City and Real Kashmir are tied on the same number of points with them. The Manipuri side is ahead of the other two by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
Coach Sankarlal Chakraborty made two changes to his starting XI from the previous game, giving the nod to Mumbai man Darren Caldiera in midfield for the very first time in place of Sourav Das. Abhishek Ambekar was also replaced with Gurjinder Kumar in defence.
For the home team, Spanish coach Manuel Fraile made just the one change to bring in Tondomba Singh in a straight mid-field swap with Saran Singh.
Mohun Bagan began the game on the front foot with Egyptian midfielder Omar, trying to control proceedings from the midfield, but it was the home team which took the lead on the 24th minute of the game via a header from Eduardo.
Katsumi got his third assist of the league, when Eduardo drilled in a header from the near post past Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Sankar Roy, off a corner taken by the Japanese.
Neroca took their lead into the lemon break.
The second half saw more entertaining football with the hosts turning it on mainly through the inspiring efforts of their Japanese winger Katsumi, who initiated most attacking moves.
On the 60th minute, he played on Subhash Singh inside the box on the right, but his effort hit the side-netting.
Bagan then equalised through a brilliant Kisekka header on the 63rd minute. Darren Caldiera it was with the assist, floating in a high cross from the left flank from just outside the box.
Ugandan Kisekka climbed on top of his marker on the far post for a perfectly weighted header, which went across Lalit Thapa in the Neroca goal and into the net.
However, the home fans were then thrown into delirium in the 69th minute, when Neroca took the lead for the second time in the game from another corner.
The ball, this time, found its way to Subhash, who rifled in a grounder which was headed towards goal from the edge of the box. Australian Aryn Williams got a touch in the melee and deflected it into the Bagan net.
It did not deter the hosts though and Malem missed a golden opportunity to put the game out of Bagan’s grasp in the 78th minute when another wonderful lay-off from Katsumi saw him in the clear inside the box. His effort lobbed way over the goal with just Sankar to beat.
Omar then missed an equally gilt-edged chance to equalise through on the 80th minute. Dicka layed it off for him beautifully on top of the box. He had a clear sight at goal with the goalkeeper positioned right in the middle. His effort lacked both accuracy and direction as it sailed over.
The visitors kept trying and Dicka got an opportunity with a free header inside the box on the 85th minute, off an Omar free-kick, but failed to connect properly and it lobbed over the Neroca goal.
Manuele Fraile even took off Katsumi and Subhash in the closing stages of the game, but it was Neroca’s day. Eduardo was declared Hero of the Match.