Debutants Tiddim Road Athletic Union FC registered their maiden I-League victory as they beat local rivals Neroca FC 2-1 in the first Imphal derby at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium in Imphal on Wednesday.
Boubacar Diarra gave Neroca the lead in the ninth minute but Naocha Singh equalised for TRAU in the 41st minute before Krishnananda Singh scored the match-winner in the 64th minute.
It was the home match of TRAU though both the sides shared the stadium for I-League matches. This was TRAU’s first win in six matches in their debut season. They have lost thrice and drawn twice before Wednesday’s win.
Both sides made three changes each from their previous match starting eleven, with TRAU FC head coach Dimitris Dimitriou opting to start with Krishnannanda Singh and Naocha Singh upfront to partner Princewill Emeka. Geron Augustus Williams also found a place in the midfield three, but the backline remained unchanged.
Gift Raikhan recalled Togo forward Zico Sekle to his Neroca starting line-up, pairing up with Boubacar Diarra in the attack. Young midfielder Jiteshwar Singh was also named to start, ahead of Gaty Kouami. Zodingliana replaced Khanngam Horam, and found a place next to Khaminthang Lhungdim in the middle of the park.
The game truly lived up to its billing right from the kick-off. In the second minute, TRAU goalkeeper Mithun Samanta committed a mistake as his attempted clearance fell straight to the feet of Chanso Horam, who chipped it over the keeper, but Abhishek Das was at the right place to head it clear off the goal line.
Neroca’s persistent pressing paid dividends quite early. In the ninth minute, a Sushil Meitei delivery inside the box was met with a ferocious left-footed volley from Boubacar Diarra, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance as Gift Raikhan’s men struck first blood in the Imphal derby.
TRAU did not waste any time in getting back on their feet and almost equalised in the 17th minute. A beautifully threaded pass by Phalguni Singh put Naocha Singh through on goal but he shot straight to the keeper.
The home side kept piling on the pressure. In the 41st minute, it was Emeka who delivered a cross which was met inside the six-yard box by an outstretched leg of Naocha Singh, and with the near post completely gaping, TRAU found their equaliser going into half-time.
The second half resumed with the same intensity, as Gift Raikhan wasted no time in making his first change. In the 48th minute, Gaty Kouami was brought on at the expense of Zico Sekle, who had a quiet first half. The change signalled a switch in formation, from a classical 4-4-2 to a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1, leaving Boubacar Diarra as the sole striker upfront.
In the 64th minute, the stadium erupted into a frenzy of celebration, as TRAU took the lead through Krishnananda Singh, who soared the highest to head home a corner taken by Angousana Luwang, leaving Devon Phillip stranded at the Neroca goal.
TRAU almost added a third but Patrick Uche’s freekick from about 30 yards out ricocheted off the woodwork, after Devon Phillip had initially gotten a fingertip to the goal-bound attempt.
Neroca had one last opportunity in the dying stages of the game, when a beautifully weighted Sushil Meitei set-piece fell to Diarra, but this time, he misjudged the flight of the ball in what would have been an easy header.
Aizawl snatch a point against Churchill Brothers
A timely strike from Isak Vanlalruatfela salvaged a 2-2 draw for hosts Aizawl FC against Churchill Brothers, who claimed the top spot in the table after splitting points, in Aizawl on Wednesday.
Aizawl FC are now placed fifth on the points table with nine points from seven games whereas Churchill Brothers go to the top of the charts with 10 points from five matches.
The match started on a slow note and the first major moment came in the 29th minute with a set-piece from Kalif Alhassan of Churchill Brothers. His dipping strike at the goal was going to find the lower right corner of the net when the Aizawl keeper made a diving save to his right.
Churchill Brothers again got a chance with a free shot for Vinil Poojary soon after but his strike from inside the box just went wide.
In the 44th minute, a low cross from the right flank by Joe Zoherliana was foiled by the away keeper and it fell to Aizawl’s Abdoulaye Kanoute who tapped the ball into the net from close range. Aizawl went into half-time leading 1-0.
The second half resumed and it had a different flavour to it. Churchill Brothers came out with attacking and looked sharper. Introduction of Israil Gurung – their set-piece expert at half-time proved his worth immediately.
In the 64th minute, Israil got a free-kick from the right side of the Aizawl box and produced a dangerous curling strike which produced a save from the home team’s keeper but he couldn’t control it and the loose ball was finally tapped in Robert Jr. Primus to level the score at 1-1.
Both teams were now trying to score the winning goal but Aizawl fell behind in the 78th minute as a poor defensive clearance by the team resulted in a close-range strike by Vinil Poojary giving the away team a 2-1 lead.
The onus was now on Aizawl and on a day when the Churchill goalkeeper wasn’t at his best, they fancied their chances of a comeback.
In the 80th minute, a cross from the left side of the box was spilled by the Churchill keeper and the ball landed for an easy tap at the feet of Isak Vanlalruatfela. He made no mistake and smashed the ball in the back of the net leveling the score.
It was fourth consecutive draw for Aizawl FC at home.