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Neroca FC seek to bounce back against Minerva Punjab in clash of I-League toppers

Neroca FC will take on Minerva Punjab in Imphal in an I-League match on Saturday.

football Updated: Jan 26, 2018 19:17 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, Imphal
Neroca FC,I-League,Minerva Punjab
Neroca FC will take on Minerva Punjab in the I-League on Saturday.(AIFF)

A nine-match unbeaten run snapped by Shillong Lajong in their previous match, Neroca FC would look to bounce back with a win and jump to the top spot when they take on Minerva Punjab in a 12th round clash of table toppers in the I-League, here tomorrow.

Neroca suffered a reversal of fortune after a dream run as they were handed a 0-2 defeat by Shillong Lajong on January 24 in front of 15,000 crowd at the Khuman Lampak Stadium and they will need to take three points tomorrow against Minerva Punjab in the crucial match to keep their title aspirations alive.

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The home side, who are on 21 points from 11 matches, would also look to avenge their 1-2 defeat to Minerva on December 1 in their campaign opener.

Minerva, on the other hand, would look to strengthen their top position with a win tomorrow. They now have 22 points from nine matches.

Neroca will have to do without the services of their first choice goalkeeper and captain Lalit Thapa who is yet to fully recover from an injury and did not train with the team today.

Shambhu Mistry, who has played in the last two matches, is expected to be under the bar tomorrow as well.

“We cannot be complacent but at the same time we should not think too much about the importance of tomorrow’s match as it is football. Anything can happen. We will try to give our best effort,” Neroca coach Gift Raikhan said at the pre-match media conference.

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“We lost to Minerva Punjab in the first leg and we have learnt lessons from that. We will have our strategy. We may make one or two changes from the playing eleven of the last match but we have not decided as yet.”

Senior player and defender Gouramangi Singh said his side would be looking to play better than the last match.

“It is going to be a crucial match and and it is also going to be a tough match. Minerva are the leaders currently and they have been doing well. I am sure we will do better than the last match. We will give our best and try to collect three points,” Gouramangi said.

The Raikhan-coached home side will have to produce a much better performance in defence as they had conceded two goals against Shillong Lajong inside 20 minutes.

Before the Lajong match, Neroca had conceded just six goals in 10 matches but suddenly the side showed their defensive vulnerabilities in the last game.

Raikhan himself had said that his defence committed mistakes against Lajong but with an experienced Gouramangi playing the pivot, the home side defenders would look for a much improved show tomorrow.

“As defenders we are around when a goal is conceded and so eventually we will have to perform better and we have learnt it,” Gouramangi said.

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Minerva have come into tomorrow’s match after a three- match winning streak, including a 2-1 win over heavyweights Mohun Bagan -- that also in Kolkata -- and they are high on confidence.

“We are in a high tempo after the three wins and we would aim for three points tomorrow. We are going to play tomorrow after a gap of 12 days while Neroca had just two days gap after their previous match, so I think my players will have fresher legs. That is a plus point for us,” Minerva coach Khogen Singh said.

He said tomorrow’s match could be the turning point for the I-League title.

“You can’t predict anything in football but it may turn out to be the turning point for the league title. Neroca are a very good side and they are playing at home but we have also prepared very well and are ready for the match.”

First Published: Jan 26, 2018 18:48 IST