I-League:NEROCA FC gave themselves a fighting chance in the race to finish in the top 6 by beating Sudeva Delhi FC by 2-0 at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Friday.
Goals by Judah Garcia and super-substitute Songpu Singsit ensured a victory for Gift Raikhan’s side in a hard-fought game against the I-League newcomers. NEROCA had the first sight of goal in the 7th minute, as Judah Garcia dispossessed Naorem Tondomba and his long-distance attempt hit the side-netting of Rakshit Dagar’s goal. On the other end, Sudeva’s Naorem Mahesh threaded a through pass for Shubho Paul, but NEROCA’s custodian Bishorjit Singh came off his line to collect it.
Sudeva were handed the opportunity to take the lead on a golden platter when Jiteshwor Singh brought down Mahesh in the penalty area. However, Kean Lewis’ spot-kick in the 12th minute was pushed away by Bishorjit Singh, saving his teammate’s blushes. Seconds later, Mahesh blasted Lewis’ cutback from a free-kick high of the goal.
Gift Raikhan’s side did get an opportunity to strike in the 13th minute after Judah Garcia brought down Lungdim’s cross, but was unable to take his shot. The loose ball, however, fell to Subash Singh, who hit his shot wide of the target. The game died down a little in terms of opportunities as Sudeva started to hold the majority of the possession.
Sudeva’s Shaiborg Kharpan was brought down just outside the area by Bishorjit Singh in a one-on-one on the 37th minute. Luckily for the keeper, the young striker’s touch was heavy and he earned just a yellow card for his tackle. Mahesh’s shot from the following free-kick looped into the hands of a grateful Bishorjit Singh after it hit the wall.
Sudeva went on to create chances but lacked quality in the final third. They were punished on the 45th minute as NEROCA quickly took a free-kick in their own half. Judah Garcia was at the end of a Khaiminthang Lhungdim’s cross on the quick break and the Trinidadian powered his header past Rakshit Dagar, giving the Orange Brigade the lead just before half-time.
Rakshit Dagar saved Sudeva Delhi from falling further behind in the 53rd minute. The keeper showcased quick reflexes to deny Judah after the goalscorer had dispossessed Gursimrat Gill off the ball in the penalty area. Meanwhile, Sudeva kept attacking and came close to the equaliser twice in the 57th minute.
Bishorjit Singh pulled off a brilliant save off Kharpan’s header from Naorem Mahesh’s corner before Deepak Singh cleared substitute Augustin Fernandes’ header off the line. Bisjorjit made another fine stop in the 65th minute when a William Pauliankhum set-piece was knocked into the path of Naocha Singh. The substitute was denied entry again by the NEROCA custodian.
With Sudeva overcommitting in the attack, NEROCA broke on the counter and Prakash Budhathoki stuck the crossbar after some good work by Judah Garcia. NEROCA finally found their safety goal in the 72nd minute when Songpu Singsit beat his defender and curled his shot past Rakshit Dagar from just inside the area.
Sudeva did have a couple of quality chances to pull a goal back. First with Lalliansanga, whose powerful effort from Pauliankhum’s cut-back inched wide the post in the 81st minute. Kharpan tried to latch on to Rostam Singh’s through ball in the 89th minute. However, Bishorjit read the pass and bravely intercepted the pass — capping off his Hero of the Match performance with a clean sheet.
Sudeva kept pushing till the final whistle searching for the goal. However, the NEROCA defence ensured they secure a 2-0 victory, giving the Orange Brigade a fighting chance for a place in the top 6 with two matches to go in the first phase of the league.