Neroca aims to extend dominance over Gokulam Kerala

Neroca plays host for a second consecutive I-League fixture, having lost its first to East Bengal in the first round.

S. Rajesh (centre) might be handed a start by Bino George for Gokulam Kerala's match against Neroca FC.   -  K. Ragesh

Neroca FC host Gokulam Kerala FC at the Khuman Lampak stadium in Imphal on Wednesday in what will be its second home game on the bounce, with the second round of I-League fixtures getting underway with a doubleheader. 

Neroca has, so far, won both its I-League matches with Gokulam, which, however, goes into the game with a draw against Mohun Bagan in its opening encounter. Neroca lost its first match of the season, to East Bengal by a two-goal margin.

However, Neroca will take heart from the fact that it gave a strong East Bengal team a run for its money. Neroca’s star Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa, a key part of Spanish coach Manuel Fraile’s game plan, is out with injury. But Liberian centre back Varney Kallon will be back from injury to provide solidity to the Neroca defence.

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The striking combination of Nigerian Felix Odili Chidi and Singham Subhash Singh was also controlled well by the East Bengal defence and must raise their game on Wednesday.

Coach Fraile hinted at further changes to the starting line-up in the pre-match presser. "Our first priority is not to repeat the mistakes from the last match against Quess East Bengal. Gokulam FC play strong football and we respect them but we need three points from this match. The players must enjoy the advantage of playing at the home ground. A new formation or a new strategy might help us to get the result against the opponents.”

The side from Kerala had played with great vigour in the second half against Mohun Bagan and only an own goal from Bagan defender Kim Kima kept its record unblemished.

Gokulam coach Bino George might start S. Rajesh up front this time, the Bengaluru boy doing the star turn against Bagan with a phenomenal display, after his introduction in the second half. Arjun Jayaraj in midfield and Abhishek Das as wingback also had solid first outings and will again be key players on Wednesday. 

Expectations will also be high of Brazilian midfielder Castro will have to show more purpose and Grenadian forward Antonio German. 

Shibinraj has been outstanding in the Gokulam goal and that will surely give George a sense of comfort.

Bino sounded positive on the match eve but was also aware of his team's record against the host. "Neroca is playing good, with good ball possession and good speed as well. We also have good players and unlike last time good bench strength as well. We are coming after a tough match against Mohun Bagan in Calicut. We will rectify the mistakes from last season and win points here.”

Gokulam Vice-captain Muhammed Rashid also spoke of last season's results. “We all have prepared well for the match. We lost twice to Neroca FC last season and this time we are looking for three points. We are confident but we respect our opponents.”

The match will kick-off at 2 PM and it'll be telecast live on Star Sports 3 as well as streamed on HotStar and Jio TV.