I-League: Neroca look to wrap final home fixture on high

ANI | Updated: Feb 17, 2018 18:11 IST

Imphal [India], Feb 17 (ANI): Table toppers Neroca FC will look to wrap their final home fixture of the I-League on a high note when they host Mohun Bagan at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium on Sunday.

The Imphal-based unit, who were only promoted to the top tier this season, lead the race atop the standings with thirty-one points in their kitty.

However, with sixteen games already played, second-placed Minerva Punjab, two points behind have as many games in hand as Neroca will look to do one better than their goalless draw with the Kolkata team earlier this season.

Having recovered well with a four-match unbeaten run after two defeats at home, the onus will be on the hosts to gain maximum points to keep the pressure on the teams below them on the table.

"Pressure is already there for me as we have only two games remaining. It is not about Mohun Bagan or even Gokulam or Indian Arrows, the pressure is always there. But, Mohun Bagan is a good team and if you can win, it is good," Neroca FC coach Gift Raikhan said on the eve of the match.

Gift Raikhan added, "It's not about the championship, it's about the history, for me and the players too. Mohun Bagan won't play easily, they have no pressure but it is about prestige. They will come all out though they don't have any chance, we cannot predict, anything can happen in football. We respect them, they have good players."

He also mentioned that club captain Lalit Thapa is fit but will have a tough time choosing between Thapa and Bishorjit Singh for the game with the latter having kept four clean sheets on the trot. Australian recruit Nick Ward had his first training session with his new clubmates on Saturday and is likely to feature on the bench.

"Our first target was top three but now that we have a good chance, why not go for it. Opportunities like this may never come back again, we have to create history for younger generations," Raikhan commented on how the success of the team augurs well for the game in the region.

On the other hand, his counterpart Sankarlal Chakraborty also realized that they have to play for prestige and the battle just would not be limited to the field.

"Neroca FC is playing very well at home. It is a Sunday and their last home game, there will be lots of supporters, they are in the race as well. So we came prepared to fight them both on and off the field. With the vocal support, it will be a tough game. They gave good foreigners but the Indians like Subash Singh, Saran Singh and Sushil Singh, they have a good side," he said.

Chakraborty added, "We are not in the race for the championship. But, we are trying to finish in a good position. If the Super Cup does happen, then we have to finish in the top four. Mohun Bagan is not only a football club, it is an institution, we have self-respect and prestige. For these reasons, we have to play our best."

The 2014-15 I-League winners are ten points and three places behind their opponents on Sunday and much has been down to their dismal home record this season.

"We have had discussions regarding this. We played good but luck was not on our side. We missed penalties, hit posts, missed chances but there is no point to dwell on that as we have no home games left, We have to concentrate on the away games, play well and target maximum points," he expressed.

Midfielder Raynier Fernandes, who has struck up a good partnership with winter window signing Cameron Watson of late, revealed that there was still positivity amongst the squad.

"It is somewhat difficult to keep motivated after knowing you don't have a chance of winning the title. But we are staying positive and hoping to finish on a good note," he said.

With four games in hand, the Green and Maroons can finish with a maximum of 33 points, still one behind Neroca if they manage to win their last one. It is all but pride to play for as Mohun Bagan look to give their fans some solace after a wretched season. Neroca though will be hoping to keep their shot at success alive.(ANI)