I-League: First-placed NEROCA keen to avoid Bagan trip up

The Imphal-based outfit looks to consolidate its top spot with a favourable result when it faces Mohun Bagan at home on Sunday.

NEROCA is currently the I-League table topper, with nine wins from 16 matches.   -  AIFF Media

NEROCA looks to consolidate its top spot in the I-League points table and keep potent rivals below it at bay with a favourable result in its home game against Mohun Bagan on Sunday.

The Imphal-based outfit has enjoyed a dream run this season, after having been promoted to the top tier at the end of last season. It finds itself two points ahead of the second-placed team - Minerva Punjab - and at this crucial juncture hopes to churn out a better result than a draw against Bagan earlier this season.

NEROCA’s coach Gift Raikhan admitted the presence of ‘pressure’ that the unit has to deal with. He said, “Pressure is already there for me as we have only two games remaining. It is not about Bagan or even Gokulam or Indian Arrows, the pressure is always there. But, Bagan is a good team and if you can win, it is good.”

‘Not about the championship’

He added, “It's not about the championship, it's about the history, for me and the players too. Bagan won't play easily, they have no pressure but it is about prestige. They will come all out though they don't have any chance, we cannot predict, anything can happen in football. We respect them, they have good players.”

NEROCA will have to decide between captain Lalit Thapa, and the other effective goalkeeper Bishorjit Singh. Bishorjit is in consideration for having ensured four clean sheets on a trot. The Australian recruit Nick Ward could be benched for the contest, but according to a club official, he is likely to make his debut.

Bagan’s coach Sankarlal Chakraborty acknowledged the quality of its opponent but specified “we have to play our best.”

‘Tough game’

He said, “NEROCA FC is playing very well at home. It is a Sunday and their last home game, there will be lots of supporters, they are in the race as well. So we came prepared to fight them both on and off the field. With the vocal support, it will be a tough game. They gave good foreigners but the Indians like Subash Singh, Saran Singh and Sushil Singh, they have a good side.”

The title may be well and truly out of its grasp but Bagan has prestige to defend. Chakraborty said, “We are not in the race for the championship. But, we are trying to finish in a good position. If the Super Cup does happen, then we have to finish in the top four. Bagan is not only a football club, it is an institution, we have self-respect and prestige. For these reasons, we have to play our best.”

Midfielder Raynier Fernandes echoed the commitment. He said, “It is somewhat difficult to keep motivated after knowing you don't have a chance of winning the title. But we are staying positive and hoping to finish on a good note.”

NEROCA, on the contrary, has all to play for on Sunday.