I-League: Depleted Minerva hosts Neroca in penultimate home game

The defending champion is currently placed in the ninth spot with 14 points from 16 games, while Neroca FC is placed fifth with 26 points from 17 matches.

NEROCA FC players in training ahead of their match against Minerva Punjab.   -  Twitter @NEROCAFC

Out of the title race, defending champion Minerva Punjab FC is all set to host Northeastern outfit Neroca FC in its penultimate Hero I-League home match here on Saturday.

The defending champion is currently placed in the ninth spot with 14 points from 16 games, while Neroca FC is placed fifth with 26 points from 17 matches.

In the first leg when Neroca FC hosted Minerva, the game ended in a goalless draw.

The host has just garnered one point from its last six games and has not been able to secure a win since December 4 last year when it defeated second-placed East Bengal 1-0 in Kolkata.

What adds to its woes is the fact that Minerva has scored just twice in its last nine encounters and goes into Saturday’s game after suffering a shocking 0-2 defeat to Indian Arrows in its last match.

In between, the Punjab outfit played against Iranian Club Saipa FC in the AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 2 at the Shahr-e Qods Stadium in Tehran, Iran which it lost by a margin of 0-4.

“We are pretty confident about Saturday’s game after Neroca’s performance in the last few games. We will be playing our game and hope the players will have the capacity to take what is coming,” Minerva coach Sachin Badadhe, who got his AFC ‘A’ License of late, said.

“We weren’t able to concentrate in a few of our games but now the team is playing better. Our foreign players have started playing good football. We have been practising hard and are looking for positive results.”

Neroca, on the other hand, has lost three in its last six encounters having drawn twice and won one.

The arrival of Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen has only added more sheen to Neroca’s attacking line.

“In the first game, we were very unlucky but I have seen my team who can perform better than the opponents. We have to give our best and take three points. Yes, we couldn’t beat them at our home but we have another chance Saturday at their home and we have to take this chance with both hands,” Neroca coach Manuel Fraile said.

“Minerva have a few new players who can damage us heavily. We have to be very careful but my team is ready.”