Ludhiana: Wankhem Khogen Singh, the head coach of Minerva Punjab expects his boys to carry on the same form that helped them snatch a 1-1 draw against Kolkata giants and former champions Mohun Bagan, when they take on Neroca FC in their second Hero I-League match at the Guru Nanak Dev Stadium, in Ludhiana on Friday.
“If we keep the same form that we showed against Bagan, we can surely collect 3 points tomorrow,” said the Minerva gaffer ahead of the match.
The home side were tactically brilliant against the Mariners with their man-marking strategy neutralising Bagan attacks for most parts of the match. Led by captain Sukhdev Minerva performed extremely well, while substitue Lago had an instant impact after coming on making life difficult for opposition’s defence.
Things could however be different when two of the youngest teams in the history of the I-League face each other. Neroca unlike Bagan does not have a star like Sony Norde and play a team game but have enough attacking prowess in their ranks. It will be an intriguing battle when Manipur’s only I-League club face Northern India’s only representative in the competition.
The I-League debutants Neroca, will however miss the home support which has always played the role of a 12th man for the club from Manipur. Although a young team, the addition of attacking midfielder Akhlidin Israilov who hails from Kyrgyzstan and has played for Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro of Urkraine has made them stronger and with striker Felix Odili Chidi upfront, Gift Raikhan’s boys can play the spoil on any given day.
The battle between the two is nothing new, with both the sides having faced each other numerous times in the second division of the I-League. Recounting those gone days Raikhan said, “2 years ago we and Minerva Punjab both tried to win the 2nd Divison I-League, that year Minerva were successful but last year we managed to win the 2nd division and that too unbeaten throughout the season. Both Minerva and NEROCA are very young squads but we also have experienced players in Gouramangi Singh and Sushil Singh. It will be interesting to watch them battle for 3 points.”
The Chandigarh based club has never not lost a single game to Manipur’s only representative in the league. When the two faced each other in the second division in 2015-16, Minerva won the home game 3-2 while drawing the away match. Raikhan however brushed off the history with a warning, “Past is past. Let’s focus on what’s about to come”.