NEROCA FC defeated Mumbai Kenkre FC 1-0 in the I-League here at Khuman Lampak Stadium on Wednesday.
A contest between teams trying to avoid relegation is generally a cagey affair. So it was today, but NEROCA had the upper hand right through, as is shown by their 15 shots on goal, eight of which were on target. Had the Kenkre defence not played a near-perfect game, Khogen Singh's men would have won by a bigger margin. A combined effort from Kynsailang Khongsit and Papuia stopped NEROCA from taking the lead in the 11th minute. The ball reached Hero of the Match Jourdain Fletcher from Nonganba, whose shot was blocked. Then Bayi Kamo passed on to Sweden Fernandes, who was shut out again.
There were no other major goalmouth incidents in the first half, except Kenkre's Cameroonian forward Auguestejunior Boumsomlaga scoring in the 43rd minute, only to be found offside. He got another chance to become the hero right after the breather. Boum was unmarked inside the box in the 53rd minute as the ball was headed down to him. But he could not keep his balance and blew away the opportunity.
After a flurry of attacks, NEROCA finally got the goal they wanted as Kamo's defence-splitting through pass found Fletcher in attacking third. He outran Samandar Ochilov and went around goalkeeper Padam Chettri, who dived to snatch the ball away from him. Fletcher had gone to an acute angle in the process but did not fail to find the net with his left foot.
David Simbo came very close to doubling the lead with a header off Mirjalol Kasimov's corner three minutes later, but it went just over the bar.
Kenkre had their backs to the wall but Thokchom Johnson Singh's red card in the 78th minute gave them some hope. The man had been booked in the 44th minute for a nasty foul. This time referee Mithun Kumar Kundu held him guilty of a handball, where the ball was coming from his back. However, Kenkre could not utilise the one-man advantage.
The only occasion when they looked really worthy of an equaliser came in the fifth minute of stoppage time. It was more a moment of individual brilliance than a concerted move by Akhil Kothari's boys. Replacement Afzar Noorani ran in from the left and tried to curl in a magnificent right-footer through the far post. But NEROCA custodian Soram Poirei flew to his left and saved his side when they needed it most.
With this win, NEROCA moved up to the eighth spot on the I-League table with 20 points, while Kenkre remained on 14. (ANI)