The teams are second and eighth-placed, respectively.
Title contenders RoundGlass Punjab meeting eight-placed NEROCA FC cannot be mistaken as a mismatch in a highly unpredictable I-League 2022-23. Teams are constantly moving up and down the table, and that is why RoundGlass Punjab’s 3-1 win over NEROCA in the reverse fixture will not mean much when they play again here at the Khuman Lampak Stadium on Monday, February 20, 2023, at 7 pm IST.
There is no denying that Staikos Vergetis has a strong squad at his disposal and the players have shown admirable consistency. But NEROCA are no pushovers. They are even better while playing at home. Wangkhem Khogen Singh’s boys have lost three of the seven matches they have played at the Khuman Lampak but one of them was against city rivals TRAU.
So the only away teams that have been able to beat the Orange Brigade at this venue are Real Kashmir and Sreenidi Deccan. That, too, by the narrowest of margins. Neither the Deccan Warriors nor the Snow Leopards could find the goal in the first half. Luka Majcen & Co., therefore, may not find it easy to breach the defence this time around.
“We’re on a good winning streak at home (4 wins in a row), and the players’ morale is very high. We’re trying to climb up on the table,” said Khogen on the eve of the match.
He will hope his defence, led by David Simbo, is able to hold the likes of Majcen, Juan Mera and Krishnananda Singh. But more will depend on how his own forwards play. While Sweden Fernandes has been superb down the right in many games and Jourdain Fletcher has scored quite often, both of them along with Bayi Kamo, have been guilty of wasting too many chances. That has impacted results in a few matches.
Just last month NEROCA were in the bottom two and involved in a relegation battle, but recent improvement in results has seen them rise to eighth in the table, six points above danger. Goalkeeper Soram Poirei claimed that his side aren’t under pressure anymore.
“I’ve been telling the boys that the pressure is all on RoundGlass Punjab as they are the ones fighting for the championship. We want to play our normal game,” said the 30-year-old.
There will be no shortage of motivation in the RoundGlass Punjab camp. A win tomorrow will be a firm step towards a possible maiden I-League title, while a slip-up could be a lethal blow to that hope.
“I’m sure that my players will fight for the three points in every game. They want this (title) too much,” said head coach Staikos Vergetis.
One of RoundGlass Punjab’s key players this season Khaiminthang Lhungdim is back in Imphal to face his boyhood club NEROCA. The 22-year-old had a professional approach to the game. “I’m fully prepared for tomorrow’s game and we’ll give our best, he said.
The match will be telecast live on Eurosport, DD Sports and Discovery Plus OTT platform from 7 pm.
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