Imphal (Manipur) [India], February 5 (ANI): Despite not playing Sreenidi Deccan were the biggest winners on a Sunday when their two closest rivals dropped valuable points away from home in the I-League. After Round Glass Punjab FC's wobble in Delhi, it was Gokulam Kerala's turn, the Malabarians suffering a 2-1 loss to NEROCA FC.
NEROCA went into this game with back-to-back wins at home, and yet were unfancied against opposition who have been on an upward curve at the business end of the season. Unbowed by pregame expectations, the home side started much stronger, their midfield asserting dominance in a way that Gokulam had previously not been subjected to.
In the 11th minute, the reward for their early exuberance arrived, Bayi Kamo's cutback inside the box collected and slotted into the bottom corner by Sweden Fernades. Gokulam protested that the ball had crossed the byline before Kamo cut it back, but their pleas were in vain. The goal was given, and where the visitors' heads dropped, NEROCA soared.
Slowly Gokulam found their way back into the game, Mendigutxia and Thahir Zaman exploiting space on NEROCA's right. The former crashed a header against the crossbar from a Sreekuttan cross in the 20th minute. It was the visitors' best chance at goal from a half that offered little else.
The second half drifted by in a blur of inaction, NEROCA happy to let Gokulam pass the ball as long as they did it without causing trouble. Mirjalol Kasimov ensured that the crowd were given their evening's worth with a goal for NEROCA in the 63rd minute that will go straight in the season's highlights reel.
Picking up the ball near the halfway line the Uzbek shimmied past two Gokulam defenders, cut back to his right foot outside the box and curled the ball towards the far corner of Shibinraj's goal. The goalkeeper's full-length dive was wasted as the ball hit the inside of the post and went in. The celebrations were raucous.
Gokulam got one back in the 77th minute when Bouba Aminou volleyed in a Noufal cross. It set up a grandstand finish, and a chance for Gokulam to capitalise on NEROCA's nerves. The home team resorted to and relied on, some old-school time-wasting tricks to ensure they took the three points. (ANI)