Neroca FC’s 3-3 draw versus Chennai City FC, on Monday, has made the I-League title more exciting.
Chennai City FC still top the standings with 34 points having played 16 matches. They are two points clear of debutants Real Kashmir FC, who are second. Neroca FC are now placed fifth with 26 points from 17 matches.
Chennai City scored thrice in the first half through Pedro Manzi (34’, 41’, 45’+1’) who scored his fourth hat-trick this season. Neroca FC came back strongly in the second half through Felix Chidi in the 52nd minute followed by a goal each from Chencho and Aryn Williams in the 68th and the first minute of the added time.
Pandiyan replaced Spaniard Roberto Eslava for Chennai. Slovakia’s Jozef Kaplan was part of the starting XI as coach Akbar Nawas decided to bench Jesuraj.
Manuel Fraile, the home side’s Spanish gaffer, also made two changes to the starting line-up. He played Tondomba Singh and under-22 Naocha Singh in place of Ashok Singh and Abdul Salam.
Neroca’s first-half domination
Neroca dominated the first half with left-winger Singham Subhash Singh troubling the Chennai defence with repeated forays down the left flank and channel.
Two such forays in the 17th and 20th minute found Katsumi’s head. The Japanese was closer from the first one, making good contact on the near post but missed the target.
Then in the 26th minute, a wonderful ball from Aryn Williams found Chencho through and the Bhutanese sniper rounded the goalkeeper, but his attempted cross from a narrow angle with the goal empty was cut out for a corner.
In the 34th minute Chennai’s three classy Spanish attackers combined for yet another wonderfully crafted goal to give the visitors the lead.
Sandro found Nestor Jesus on the left flank with a long ball from just inside their own half. The mercurial Nestor cut in and, from just outside the box, noticed Pedro Manzi’s run inside the box and played him in. Manzi swooped in and with a left-footed jab, slid the ball into the net from between keeper Lalit Thapa’s legs for his 14th strike of the campaign. Nestor also recorded his sixth assist to go with his six goals.
In the 41st minute, Liberian defender Varney Kallon inexplicably gave the ball away to Manzi with only the keeper in front of him. The striker drove forward, kept his cool and slotted home over the keeper’s right shoulder.
Neroca, then, had a chance to get one back when Malem was in the clear inside the box but the midfielder’s powerful strike towards goal was wonderfully saved by substitute keeper Kabir.
Pedro Manzi, then, completed his fourth hat-trick of the league in the first minute of added time.
However, Neroca seemed to have other ideas and were not going down without a fight as they struck early in the second half through substitute Felix Chidi. Chencho, then, struck the second goal for Neroca in the 68th minute before Williams salvaged a point for his team in the the first minute of the added time.