Debutants TRAU FC will eye their maiden victory of the season when they lock horns with local rivals NEROCA FC in the first-ever Imphal derby of the I-League in Imphal on Wednesday.
TRAU remain rooted to the bottom of the league standings, five games into their debut season but have shown signs of improvement over their last two games against Real Kashmir and Punjab FC.
The duo of Kofi Tetteh and Princewill Emeka has been combining well up front, while the likes of Abhishek Das, Soirasham Sandeep Singh and Patrick Uche are slowly starting to gel at the back. Phalguni Singh has also been hitting his stride in midfield.
Sharing the same ground, there will be no home advantage to bank on for either side.
“NEROCA are very much aware of the ground conditions. There is no advantage but Neroca have been travelling, so they must be tired but as we know, they are a very good side. They will definitely recover and we will have a good match,” TRAU FC assistant coach Surmani Singh said.
NEROCA, on the other hand, have found it difficult to get the ground running, with their only victory of this campaign coming way back in the second round against northeast rivals Aizawl FC.
Since then, they have gone on to lose 1-4 at home against East Bengal before playing out draws away from home against Chennai City and Indian Arrows.
Since their promotion to the I-League in 2017, NEROCA have been in the upper half of the league standings and, despite not hitting full throttle yet this season, will be going into the derby as favourites.
Gaty Kouami and Chanso Horam have complemented each other well, while teenage midfielder Khaiminthang Lhungdim had a stunning outing in the last match against the Arrows.
Reflecting on how monumental this fixture is going to be, NEROCA head coach Gift Raikhan said: “We know all the football fans in Manipur are excited. The first Imphal derby is a great platform that Manipur football can use to build on. Everybody couldn’t be more excited.
Aizawl entertain in-form Churchill Brothers
Hero I-League will head to Mizoram as Aizawl FC play host to the Red Machines – Churchill Brothers FC Goa from Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl on Wednesday (January 8, 2020). Aizawl are currently placed sixth on the points table with 7 points from six games and Churchill Brothers are placed second with nine points from four games.
After the heroic performance against Gokulam Kerala where after being down to 10 men within the first 20 minutes of the game, Aizawl showed tremendous resilience in order to salvage a draw away from home at Kozhikode.
The match didn’t only reflect the robustness of the defensive line lead by Kassaga but also stamped the fact that they aren’t an easy opponent to break down under any circumstance.
Speaking ahead of the match, Stanley Rozario, Head Coach, Aizawl FC, said, “It was a very tough away fixture against Gokulam, as we played with 10 men for more than 70 minutes. Our players showed the fighting spirit, courage, character and commitment on the pitch and drew the match 1-1.”
“In the last three matches, we have been giving away easy penalties and this is the big worrying part now and I’m working on it. Our players have to be more cautious and not to repeat the same mistakes.”
He also spoke about the opponents, “Churchill Brothers are tough opponents and they are in good form and coming with high motivation after defeating Quess East Bengal in Goa. They have the players like Willis Plaza, Lalkhawpuimawia and Alhassan who can put pressure on any opponent but we have a plan to stop them and my players are ready to take the challenge.”
Churchill Brothers will be entering the match on a high having just lost a game on their way to Aizawl. Willis Plaza has been the indomitable leader of the pack and Kalif Alhassan has beautifully fit into the shoes of Dawda Ceesay who has been missing from the line up due to an injury.
The consistency of Israil Gurung in delivering inch-perfect balls into the box has been another advantage for the team which eventually won the match for the Red Machines against Quess East Bengal.
Bernardo Tavares, Head coach, Churchill Brothers FC Goa, commented about dealing with pressure, “In football, there will always be pressure. Hero I-League has just started now and surely, all the teams are going to lose points in the future.”
“We must try to win the next match and try to be in the top half of the table, but the most important for thing for us is to be on top of the table when the league is over.”
Speaking about the opponents, he said, “I’m told that they won 2-1 against Churchill Brothers last season. This season, they have already played at home against Mohun Bagan, Chennai City and Punjab and they did not lose any game. They are a very strong team at home and the artificial turf will give them an edge because we are used to playing on natural turf.”
He further added, “They fight very hard when they don’t have the ball. They have good players and they are a good team. They just lost one game away until now in the league. If we want to win this team we must be better at fighting for the ball.”