I-League: Neroca defeat Arrows by slender margin
Imphal: Neroca FC registered a 2-1 win over the Indian Arrows to move up to second place in the I-League standings at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium here on Friday.
With this win, Neroca FC leap-frogged Minerva Punjab FC to the second spot with 14 points from seven matches while Indian Arrows will stay at the seventh position with as many points having played one match more.
A first-half brace by Singam Subash Singh (39th minute, 45th) helped Neroca outplay a young Indian Arrows side for the majority of the game.
Birthday boy Abhijit Sarkar (89th minute) scored a late goal to add some suspense towards the climax, but it couldn't deter the Gift Raikhan-coached team from bagging all three points.
Young Prabshukhan Singh Gill continued to stand in between the sticks for Matos' Arrows. Up front, Rahim Ali was deployed centrally and had support from Nongdamba Naorem and Rahul Kannoly Praveen on the flanks.
Nigerian striker Felix Chidi lead the line for the home side, with Akhlidin Israilov tasked with conducting play as an attacking midfielder. Seasoned striker Singam Subash Singh started the game on the left wing. Felix Chidi was at the forefront of most of Neroca's forays forward. The Nigerian striker, at the half-hour mark, attempted an audacious overhead kick on Yumnam Singh's cross from the right. He failed to connect properly and Prabshukhan heaved a sigh of relief.
Neroca's efforts paid off in the 39th minute. Akhlidin Israilov released a well-weighted through-ball into the path of Singam Subash Singh who chipped Prabshukhan with aplomb. Subash doubled his tally at the stroke of half-time with another confident finish and this time, it was Felix Chidi who turned provider. Chidi split the Arrows defence and the Manipur-born forward slotted the ball into the net to end the half with a two-goal lead for Neroca. Luis Norton de Matos replaced Sanjeev Stalin with Naorem Singh at the break. The change failed to influence proceedings as NEROCA started the second half from where they left off at the break. Subash Singh sliced a cross into the box wide of goal in the 53rd minute as the home side kept trying to add to their goal difference.
Akhlidin Israilov, the playmaker from the Kyrgyz Republic, almost made it 3-0 as his piledriver from outside the box struck the crossbar soon after the hour-mark. The attacking midfielder was having a field day in Manipur against a struggling Arrows midfield.
Arrows full-back Boris Singh surged forward and chipped a cross into the centre of the box from the right flank in the 75th minute. But it failed to reach the intended target, much like most of the Arrows' deliveries into the box on the day. Boris Singh's late sliding tackle on substitute Nedo Turkovic in the 82nd minute resulted in a spot-kick for the home side. Jean Fabien Vorbe hit the net initially but was asked to take it again by the referee as Kallon crossed the line before the kick was taken. On the second go, he struck the bar preventing further misery for the Arrows.
Arrows substitute Sarkar tapped in Rahul Praveen's cross to conjure some hope for his side in the dying minutes but it was too late for a magical comeback as NEROCA sealed full points to make it six games without a win in the league.
Indian Arrows will now set off to Shillong deal with Shillong Lajong on January 8 and Neroca FC will travel to Coimbatore to clash the swords with Chennai City FC one day later.