The Imphal-based outfit have a better head-to-head record against the South Indian side.
NEROCA FC host Gokulam Kerala FC at the Khuman Lampak stadium in Imphal on Wednesday (October 31, 2018), in what will be their second home game on the bounce as Game Week Two of the 12th Hero I-League gets underway with a doubleheader.
NEROCA have, so far, won both their Hero I-League head-to-head encounters with Gokulam, however, the visitors go into the game with a draw against Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in their opening encounter which should give them more confidence than their hosts, who lost theirs to the other Kolkata biggie Quess East Bengal (QEB) by a two-goal margin.
However, NEROCA will take heart from the fact that they gave QEB, a side with evident quality, a tough run in the season’s first game. NEROCA’s star Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa, a key part of Spanish coach Manuel Fraile’s plans for this season, is out with injury as disclosed by the coach himself in the pre-match presser, however Liberian centre back Varney Kallon will be back from injury to add more solidity to the NEROCA defence.
The combination of Nigerian Felix Odili Chidi and Singham Subhash Singh were also controlled well by a robust QEB defence and they would have to up their game on Wednesday for NEROCA to get a positive result. On the tactical front, one thought that Australian Aryn Williams has previously been seen playing further up the field than what he did against QEB and coach Fraile might want to have a look at that option.
Coach Fraile though hinted at further changes to the starting line-up in the pre-match presser opining, “ Our first priority is not to repeat the mistakes from the last match against Quess East Bengal. Gokulam FC play strong football and we respect them but we need three points from this match. The players must enjoy the advantage of playing at the home ground. A new formation or a new strategy might help us to get the result against the opponents.”
The side from Kerala had built up much pressure in the second half against the Bagan side. An own goal from Bagan defender Kim Kima kept their record unblemished against Bagan but they would have their work cut out in the hills to come away with full points.
Gokulam coach Bino George will want to begin with S. Rajesh upfront this time, the Bengaluru boy doing the star turn against Bagan with a phenomenal display, after his introduction in the second half. Arjun Jayaraj in midfield and Abhishek Das as wing back also had solid first outings and will again be key players on Wednesday.
Brazilian midfielder Castro will have to show more purpose and Grenadian forward Antonio German will have to convert industry into results, to be more effective.
Shibinraj has been outstanding in the Gokulam goal and that will surely give Bino George a sense of ease. Bino sounded positive on the match day eve but was also aware of their record against the hosts saying, “NEROCA is playing good, with good ball possession and good speed as well. We also have good players and unlike last time good bench strength as well. We are coming after a tough match against Mohun Bagan in Calicut. We will rectify the mistakes from last season and win points here.”
Gokulam Vice-captain Muhammed Rashid was also well aware of their record against NEROCA, “We all have prepared well for the match. We lost twice to NEROCA FC last season and this time we are looking for three points. We are confident but we respect our opponents.”
All in all, with both teams having showing fight in their opening fixture, it should be an entertaining 90 minutes at the Khuman Lampak.
NEROCA’s Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa, a key part of Spanish coach Manuel Fraile’s plans for this season, is out with injury.
NEROCA FC: Boerchio, Ashok, Kallon, Eduardo, Denechandra, Sushil, Meitei, Williams, Ronald, Subhash, Chidi.
Gokulam Kerala: Shibin Raj, Jishnu, Addo, Ortiz, Das, Musa, Kochnev, Rashid, Jayaraj, Suhair, German.
The match will kick-off at 2 PM and it’ll be telecast live on Star Sports 3 as well as streamed on HotStar and Jio TV.