Imphal: Their unbeaten run of nine games snapped by a 2-0 defeat to Shillong Lajong which incidentally was also their first defeat at home this season, Neroca FC will battle for revenge when they take on leaders Minerva Punjab at the Khuman Lampak main Stadium on Saturday.
The last time they lost a game before the Lajong defeat was also to the Punjabi Warriors in their opening encounter but a win here would send the Manipur club to the top, now on 21 points after 11 rounds of games. Minerva stand on 22 having played two games less.
It will be crucial encounter for both sides but Minerva with a victory can strengthen their position to four points clear at the top and coach Khogen Singh, someone who have played a lot of such intriguing battles during his playing days for Air India rightly pointed out this game “may turn out to be the turning point for the league title.”
Both the teams have walked the same route in fielding home grown players and tasted the almost same amount of success but Minerva have lost a game less and are currently on an winning run of three games but Khogen remained cautious.
“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,” he said yet returning after a gap of 12 days rest he expectes his boys to have fresher legs than their opponents who play twice in a space of three days.
But taking Neroca lightly means Minerva will dig their own grave. Although the ‘People’s Club’ lost 1-2 in their debut match in the 1st division -League, they have come long way since then conceding just four in the next nine games and add the two they shipped in against Lajong, it puts Neroca in the joint second list of least goals conceded. “Anything can happen. We will try to give our best effort,” said head coach Raikhan at the pre-match conference.
“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.” added the home-grown coach who just like most his players in the club, is from Manipur.
Conceding two goals in the opening-half itself had led Neroca two both the defeats and although they pulled one back against Minerva, they couldn’t do the same against Lajong and the table leaders chasing their maiden title will look to jump to the opportunity in the opening 45 minutes.