NEROCA FC rode its luck to the top of the 2017-18 Hero I-League table after defeating Gokulam Kerala FC 1-0 at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium on Sunday.
Liberian defender Varney Kallon Kiatamba scored two minutes prior to the half-time whistle which was enough for the newly-promoted side to register all three points at its home ground to unsettle Minerva Punjab FC at the top.
Gift Raikhan decided not to disturb NEROCA’s winning combination which defeated Churchill Brothers in its away game earlier this week. Bino George, on the other hand, made three changes in the starting XI which defeated Shillong Lajong in the previous game. Kivi Zhimoni, Santu Singh and Daniel Addo made way for Arjun Jayaraj, Henry Kisekka and Balwinder Singh.
The visitor received an early blow when Laldampuia had to leave the field with an injury in the 9th minute of the game. George introduced Kivi Zhimoni in place of the injured winger.
NEROCA opened the goal mouth on multiple occasions within the first 25 minutes of the match. Aryn Williams’ shot from inside the box was cleared valiantly by Mohammed Irshad. The Australian once again came very close to score in the 24th minute when he was one on one with Bilal Khan but his shot went wide.
Alajmi, on the other end, hit the crossbar from Salman’s square in the 28th minute. The Bahraini midfielder unleashed a pile-driver from inside the box but the ball shook the crossbar and came back. Bishorjit Singh had absolutely no chance of saving had the ball been on target.
Kiatamba Kallon broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute from Nedo Turkovic’s pass. The defender took advantage of a fumble from Bilal Khan and put the ball into the back of the net at the stroke of halftime.
NEROCA deservingly went into the break with a one-goal lead after dominating proceedings in the first 45 minutes.
Gokulam could hardly contain the host after the resumption of the game. While the attacking duo of Felix Chidi and Subash Singh were on their best display but to Gokulam Kerala's luck, the host was wasteful in the final third.
Subash really had a tough time and his struggles were magnified in the last ten minutes of regulation time. In the 82nd minute, appeals for a handball were turned down by the referee as Subash alleged the ball had touched Irshad's hand from his shot, first delivered by a wonderful square pass from Chidi.
While Gift Raikhan would have been a content man as his side leapfrogged Minerva Punjab FC to go top of the standings, an injury to Glen Aryn Williams will be a concern but with three upcoming home matches, there will be some respite for the club who now have 27 points from 14 games.
Gokulam Kerala FC remains rooted to the bottom of the table with ten points from twelve outings.
Neroca will now host Northeastern rival Aizawl FC on 10th February whereas the Kerala outfit will travel to Kolkata to face Mohun Bagan two days later.
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