IMPHAL, Feb 11
NEROCA held Chennai City to a 3-3 draw at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Monday by overturning a 3-0 deficit.
A first-half hat-trick by Pedro Manzi (35′, 42′, 45+1′) was not enough to seal the three points for his side as Felix Chidi (52′), Chencho Gyeltshen (68′) and Aryn Williams (87′) got their names on the scoresheet in the second half to inspire a memorable comeback for NEROCA.
Manuel Retamero made two changes to his side that lost 2-1 against East Bengal with Tondomba Singh and Naocha Singh making it to the starting XI at the expense of Abdul Salam and Ashok Singh.
On the other hand, Akbar Nawas also decided to make two alterations to his side that beat Indian Arrows 2-0. Roberto Eslava and Alexander Jesuraj were axed from the first XI and in came Jozep Kaplan and Pandiyan Sinivasan.
It was a bright start to the game as both sides did not hide their intentions of getting the opener. NEROCA gradually gained control of the match but failed to capitalise on their ascendancy as their forwards could not convert chances.
It was against the run of play that Chennai found the opener through Manzi. Sandro released Nestor on the left flank who split open NEROCA’s defence with a through ball for Manzi. The skipper timed his run to beat the offside trap and completed a clinical finish between the legs of Thapa to hand Chennai the lead.
The second goal was a gift from Varney Kallon whose pass fell for Manzi just yards outside the penalty box and the Spaniard buried the ball into the net giving Thapa no chance to pull off a save.
Chennai continued their rampage and Manzi completed his hat-trick right at the end of first half when he latched on to a ball by Edwin on the overlap and calmly finished it past a hapless Thapa.
If the first half belonged to Chennai then it was NEROCA who took the game by the scruff of its neck in the second half. Retamero brought on Felix Chidi and Abdul Salam and both of them turned out to be integral in their team’s comeback trail.
Chidi opened the scoring for NEROCA after he was set up by Chencho. Regin gave the ball away in front of his penalty box and he was punished by the hosts. Chencho found Chidi after a melee and the Nigerian kept his calm to get past Kabir under the sticks and tap into an empty net.
In the 68th minute, Katsumi Yusa latched on to a long diagonal ball from Sebastian and set up Chencho who finished from six yards.
In the 87th minute, it was Aryn Williams who levelled matters up with a stunning effort from outside the box. Abdul Salam’s long throw-in was headed down by Felix Chidi towards Williams and the Australian rifled in a shot that completed NEROCA’s comeback.
Although Chennai continue to remain on top, this result throws the title race wide open as East Bengal can level them on points if the Red and Golds pick up two wins on the trot.
Nawas will next rally his troops against Shillong Lajong on February 18 whereas NEROCA will travel to Chandigarh to face Minrva Punjab on February 23. Agencies
IMPHAL, Feb 11