Two first-half goals from Felix Chidi, Pritam Singh and a header from Ronald Singh in the injury time clinched a 3-0 win for Neroca FC to open their account in the ongoing I-League, overcoming fellow debutants Gokulam Kerala FC who are now left winless in their first three fixtures.
Bino George’s boys almost snatched an early lead within seconds of kick-off but the assistant referee ruled it out for offside. Gokulam striker Lelo Mbele poked home in the 17th second of the match but his joy was cut short by the official on the touchline.
On a counter attack, Neroca FC found the Gokulam Kerala FC defence wanting and mounted several attacks. After the early drama in either half of the pitch, the pace of the game slowed down which lead to the visitors opening the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Tondomba Singh directed a ball in to Nigerian striker Chidi who ran past Provat Lakra to tap it home eventually to silence the 8000-odd home crowd. Meanwhile, it was the Nigerian striker’s second goal in as many games.
Following the goal, the visitors continued to push the hosts to double the lead but the home team somehow contained the Manipuri side’s attacks until the 43rd minute.
Subash Singh outran the defender down the left flank and crossed it into the 6-yard box which was headed home by Pritam Singh to leave Gokulam with a 2-0 lead to overturn in the second half.
Bino George rang a couple of changes after the changeover in their pursuit of the elusive goal when Shinu S and Vicky Meitei were introduced at the expense of Mohamed Salah and Gulom Urunov respectively.
As Shinu S was deployed at the heart of the defence, Provat Lakra pushed himself to the left wing to add more vigour to the attacking third but Neroca FC handled that without much fuss.
Irshad put in a low cross for Mbele in the 63rd minute but Aussie defender Aryn Williams went for a last-minute tackle to keep the clean sheet. Substitute Ronald Singh who replaced Subash Singh five minutes, headed home Neroca’s third in added time to add gloss to the scoreline.
With the win, Neroca FC jump to the fifth position in the table with 3 points from 2 matches whereas the Kerala-based side now has a single point from their three matches, drawing one and losing the rest.
Neroca FC will go back to Imphal to host Chennai City FC on December 15 while Gokulam Kerala FC will face Indian Arrows on December 22.