I-League: Neroca eyes top spot against Minerva

Neroca suffered a reversal of fortune after a dream run as it was handed a 0-2 defeat by Shillong Lajong, on Wednesday, in front of 15,000 crowd at the Khuman Lampak Stadium.

Neroca FC will need to take three points tomorrow against Minerva Punjab in the crucial match to keep their title aspirations alive.   -  AIFF Media

A nine-match unbeaten run snapped by Shillong Lajong in its previous match, Neroca FC would look to bounce back with a win and jump to the top spot when it takes on Minerva Punjab in a 12th round clash of table topper in the I-League on Saturday.

Neroca suffered a reversal of fortune after a dream run as it was handed a 0-2 defeat by Shillong Lajong on Wednesday, in front of 15,000 crowd at the Khuman Lampak Stadium, and it will need to take three points on Saturday against Minerva Punjab in the crucial match to keep its title aspirations alive.

The home side, which is on 21 points from 11 matches, would also look to avenge its 1-2 defeat to Minerva on December 1 in its campaign opener.

Minerva, on the other hand, would look to strengthen its top position with a win on Saturday. It now has 22 points from nine matches.

Neroca will have to do without the services of its first choice goalkeeper and captain Lalit Thapa, who is yet to fully recover from an injury and did not train with the team today. Shambhu Mistry, who has played in the last two matches, is expected to be under the bar as well.

“We cannot be complacent but at the same time we should not think too much about the importance of tomorrow’s match as it is football. Anything can happen. We will try to give our best effort,” Neroca coach Gift Raikhan said at the pre-match media conference.

“We lost to Minerva Punjab in the first leg and we have learnt lessons from that. We will have our strategy. We may make one or two changes from the playing eleven of the last match but we have not decided as yet.”

Senior player and defender Gouramangi Singh said his side would be looking to play better than the last match.

“It is going to be a crucial match and and it is also going to be a tough match. Minerva are the leaders currently and they have been doing well. I am sure we will do better than the last match. We will give our best and try to collect three points,” Gouramangi said.

The Raikhan-coached home side will have to produce a much better performance in defence as it had conceded two goals against Shillong Lajong inside 20 minutes.

Before the Lajong match, Neroca had conceded just six goals in 10 matches, but suddenly, the side showed its defensive vulnerabilities in the last game.

Raikhan himself had said that his defence committed mistakes against Lajong, but with an experienced Gouramangi playing the pivot, the home side defenders would look for a much improved show on Saturday.

“As defenders we are around when a goal is conceded and so eventually we will have to perform better and we have learnt it,” Gouramangi said.

Minerva will be coming into Saturday’s match after a three- match winning streak, including a 2-1 win over heavyweights Mohun Bagan — that also in Kolkata — and it is high on confidence.

“We are in a high tempo after the three wins and we would aim for three points tomorrow. We are going to play tomorrow after a gap of 12 days while Neroca had just two days gap after their previous match, so I think my players will have fresher legs. That is a plus point for us,” Minerva coach Khogen Singh said.

He said Saturday’s match could be the turning point for the I-League title.

“You can’t predict anything in football but it may turn out to be the turning point for the league title. Neroca is a very good side and they are playing at home but we have also prepared very well and are ready for the match.”