I-League: NEROCA FC hold East Bengal FC to 1-1 draw, finish in second position
NEROCA FC held East Bengal to a 1-1 draw in a crunch last-round I-League match as league leaders Minerva Punjab FC beat relegation-threatened Churchill Brothers to win the I-League title on Thursday in Panchkula.football Updated: Mar 08, 2018 18:36 IST
At the best of times, East Bengal were hoping for a mid-week miracle against NEROCA FC in Kolkata. When Minerva Punjab FC scored in Panchkula, chances of the I-League trophy receded somewhat. Then, Mohun Bagan struck in Kozhikode dealing East Bengal another blow.
Still, having decided that attack was their best option on Thursday afternoon, East Bengal kept trying. Coach Khalid Jamil made six changes to the team that drew at Shillong Lajong and barring the central defensive pairing of Arnab Mondal and Eduardo Ferreira, the rest were to go for goals.
Mohammed Rafique was introduced to create from deep, Joby Justin to play behind Dudu Omagbemi, right-back Samad Ali Mallick and wide medio Yami Longvah to supplement East Bengal’s need for speed. An early Mallick error put Subhas Singh in the clear but the NEROCA FC wide right shot poorly. It was a risk East Bengal were willing to take.
Between the 35th and the 37th minutes, East Bengal could have scored twice. But from almost on the goalline, Justin failed to tap home, his effort going high after Mahmoud al-Amnah’s delivery sailed over everyone NEROCA FC goalie Lalit Thapa included. Then, Al-Amnah, fed by Dudu Omagbemi acrobatically swinging his left leg, failed to beat Thapa with a placement.
Next, a superb ball from Katsumi Yusa found Omagbemi who was denied by an equally good tackle inside the area by Varney Kallon. And with Thapa out of position while trying to deny Omagbemi, Yusa found Saran Singh in the box instead of a teammate.
Having absorbed all this, NEROCA FC struck in the 42nd minute. From deep in his own half, Australian midfielder Nicholas Ward found right-back Ashok Moirangmayum on the overlap and moved up to receive the return ball. Ward found Felix Chidi and Mondal tried an off-side trap that was never on. It gave the Nigerian striker space and he then made Mondal by turning the wrong way before stabbing home.
East Bengal threw everything they had in the second half, including replacements Laldanmawia Ralte, Ansumana Kromah and Cavin Lobo. It fetched the equaliser in the 73rd minute after a combined move that began with Ferreira, moved right and left before Lalram Chullova’s delivery had Oamgbemi leaping highest and heading powerfully.
For the rest of the time, marshalled adroitly by central defenders Govin Singh and Kallon, the NEROCA FC backline showed they could deal with the kitchen sink and more East Bengal were throwing. Not for nothing had Jamil pointed out NEROCA FC’s defensive solidity and sought a better conversion rate.
There were though two East Bengal calls for penalty, in the 46th and 90th. The first time, Omagbemi’s shot hit Kallon’s hand and then Yusa’s corner-kick touched Saran Singh’s arm. For the second, East Bengal protested vociferously with even manager Manoranjan Bhattacharya rushing out to the fourth referee Akash Routh.
In the end, none of that mattered because the new champions were crowned in the north. East Bengal ended fourth and with it a cheque of Rs 25 lakh. Manipur got a gift from NEROCA FC who finished second in their first year at the top level and a prize purse of Rs 60 lakh.