I-League: Neroca wins the seven-goal thriller to break the evil of Punjab
IMPHAL: It rained goals in Imphal in an entertaining I-League match with Neroca emerging 4-3 winners against Punjab FC thanks to a hat-trick of the ghnaiano striker Phillip Adjah Tettey at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium on Tuesday.
Tettey gave Neroca the lead in the fifth minute before Dipanda Dicka restored parity three minutes later by scoring his 50th I-League goal.
Tettey scored her second in the 37th minute to claim Neroca's lead before substitute Girik Mahesh Khosla (59th) returned Punjab to levels close to the hour mark.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men after Yumnam Raju was sent off for a second, bookable offense. Neroca soon ran to a 4-2 lead, courtesy of Danilo de Punjab's own goal (75), and soon after, Tettey scored his third of the game in the 82nd minute.
Dicka converted a penalty in the 86th minute, but the home team held on for the rest of the match in a nervous ending.
Raikhan Gift made wholesale changes in the alignment of the home team. Dhananjoy Singh & Rojen Meitei were called upon at the back. Jiteshwor Singh dropped just behind Imran Khan in midfield. Khangam Horam & Singam Subash Singh started upfront.
Punjab gaffer Yan Law made three changes. Yumnam Raju & Samuel Shadap were reinstated to the four-man defence. Sergio Barboza Jr. also made his return, starting out wide.
The match started with a scorching start. In the fourth minute, Himanshu Jangra read the threatening career of Sergio Barboza, who made himself available for a pass with an overlapping run. Jangra selected Dipanda Dicka inside the box, who had a crack the first time but was rejected by the crossbar.
Just a minute later, Neroca caught Punjab napping on the counter. Jiteshwor Singh led the charge & found Imran Khan to his left. Khan played Tettey through on goal & the Ghanaian forward clinically slotted past Kiran Limbu for the opener.
In the 8th minute, the home team was shot in the foot during a corner routine when Imran Khan granted his position outside the Punjab box, which led to a break. Sanju Pradhan He ran the length of the field before crossing the goal for Dicka, who this time made no mistake to restore parity.
Neroca pressed effectively, & it paid dividends in the 37th minute. Kiran Limbu's wayward pass was picked out, which put Tettey through on goal again. Danilo couldn't recover in time, & Tettey restored Neroca's advantage heading into the break.
In the 48th minute, it was veteran Sanju Pradhan who played culprit & lost the possession to Tettey but with a hat-trick beckoning, he fluffed his lines with his finish.
Near the hour mark, the delivery of the Sanju set piece was not read by Neroca's bottom line, allowing substitute Khosla to get a spectacular equalizer.
Yumnam Raju made things worse for the whole of Punjab, after he picked up a red card for a second reserve offense.
The Orange Brigade thoroughly capitalised on their one-man advantage. In the 75th minute, Imran Khan's left-footed curler found the head of Danilo, & the Brazilian, to his dismay, netted an unfortunate own-goal.
Neroca added to Punjab's misery by adding a room. Some student defending from Punjab added the last nail to the coffin again.
Eze Kingsley gave the ball away & in an attempt to recover the ball, went down to put Tettey through on goal for his hat-trick, which he duly notched this time.
Dicka's penalty in the 86th minute made 4-3 headed for a nervous end with five minutes added, but Neroca held on to record a vital victory in his quest to avoid relegation.
Neroca has now moved up one place with 18 points, while Punjab is still third with 23.