The northeast outfit can climb to the league’s summit with a win.
NEROCA FC will have the golden opportunity to leapfrog current table toppers Minerva Punjab FC to reach the summit of the 2017-18 Hero I-League standings when they host Gokulam Kerala FC at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium in Imphal on Sunday (February 4, 2018).
Two back-to-back losses at home last week somewhat derailed the Manipur-based side’s surge to the top after they went nine games unbeaten. Redemption in front of their home crowd will be on their minds as the incentive to go top also beckons for the men in orange.
Defender Varney Kallon addressed the media, “Yes we lost those two games but still the league seems in our favour. We start from tomorrow, and until the end of the league, we’ll do whatever possible for us to become the champions.”
He added, “It was shocking to everyone because the past two years I played in NEROCA, I never lost any game at home. So when I lost two games at home, I was shocked but this I football.”
“Whenever you are playing a league, you don’t go out to lose but when you do, you accept it. You change your focus to your goals for the end of the season. So our dream and concentration are to get done with the five remaining games in hand. Hopefully, we will do well, get the glory and wins those games. I strongly believe that we will be champions”, he added.
Assistant coach S. Premkanda reasoned for their two home losses. He said, “Football is like life. In a match one is a winner and one is a loser. The winner tries to win the match even though football is there. We lose as a team and win as a team.”
Not having found the back of the net in the last three games from open play (goal against Churchill came via a penalty), the newly-promoted side will be in a spot of bother as goals seem to have dried up suddenly.
NEROCA play four consecutive home games starting Sunday and will be hoping for a revival of fortunes to stay up with Minerva Punjab in the title race, having already played a game more than the Warriors, who incidentally dropped points the previous night.
Gokulam Kerala, on the other hand, will be eyeing their third victim on the trot after ending their five-match losing run last month with two wins on the spin.
Head coach Bino George explained, “They (NEROCA) are at the top and we are at the bottom. For us, this match is very precious. Last two matches we played good and now the boys are eager to fight against NEROCA. For us, we want to finish mid-table and for that, we have to play a good game against NEROCA. We are working hard and we will get results hopefully.”
“Slowly and steadily, the boys are getting into the groove. My squad is very young and inexperienced. Maybe only one or two of them have featured in previous seasons of the Hero I-League and now they are getting the experience. After about playing nine matches, they have got to know what all is needed to thrive in this kind of a competition and with the knowledge, we want to work hard and get results.”
He praised the Manipur-based side, “NEROCA are a good side, they play hard. They have enough players in their squad and more or less retained the same team from last season, so they are familiar with each other and have continued the tempo. It is good for NEROCA and we respect them as an opponent.”
“But for us, we are in a different stage. We are at the bottom and we have to come up. Kerala got a Hero I-League club after seven years and we want to at least qualify for the Super Cup. We owe it to our management and the state of Kerala, which is badly needed, to sustain ourselves in the I-League and play in the Super Cup,” he concluded.
With ten points from eleven games, the Hero I-League debutants’ next four fixtures will define their season as they have Mohun Bagan, Kingfisher East Bengal and Minerva Punjab lined up after this.
NEROCA will pip Minerva by a point if they win but for Gokulam Kerala, a dream of finishing mid-table will really take shape if they manage to steal points at Imphal.
Kick-off is at 2.30 PM IST. The match will be telecasted live on Star Sports 2/2 HD and will be streamed on Hotstar and Jio TV.