By Rajarshi Chakrabarty
Imphal has witnessed the bloodiest of battles during The Second World War between the Allied Forces and Imperial Japanese Army during the 1940’s and the match between NEROCA FC of Imphal and Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan AC could have a similitude with the way both teams fought tooth and nail during the 90-minutes of the game.
The close fought encounter saw Mohun Bagan win by a narrow 3-2 margin with a couple of goals from Dipanda Dika and a winner from Akram Moghrabi to nullify NEROCA’s Subhash Singh and Felix Odilli Chidi’s effort.
Mohun Bagan has little title aspirations left in their campaign after their season went haywire following a series of losses and drawn games at home. Mohun Bagan’s motivation going into the game was to play for pride and honour of the prestigious club and look for a top-four finish should AIFF decides to host the Super Cup, later this year.
NEROCA FC has been oscillating in the top 3 of the league table and went into the match as table toppers having an unbeaten run in the last 4 games with three wins and a draw. The match against Mohun Bagan was imperative in their title quest as they went into the match with two games in hand.
Gift Raikhan persisted with young Bishorjit Singh in the goal and brought in veteran defender Gorimangi Singh to pair alongside Varney Kallon at the heart of the defence. Saran Singh, Vorbe Jean Fabien and Aryn William formed the three midfielders and Felix Chidi upfront was supported by Gopi Singh and Subash Singh from both the flanks in the 4-3-3 formation.
Mohun Bagan Coach Sankarlal Chakraborty deployed a 4-1-3-2 formation as Kingshuk and Eze Kingsley was in charge of the Centre Back, Watson played the defensive midfielder role while Japanese midfielder Yuta Kinowaki was the holding midfielder role assisted by Nikhil Kadam and Azharuddin on both flanks. Dipanda Dicka and Akram Moghrabi formed the tip of the attacking duo as looked to snatch three crucial points from the den of the NEROCA.
As the high-intensity match kicked off with both teams looked to control the game and started playing a high line in search of an early goal.NEROCA were rewarded around the 15 minutes mark from a defensive error of Kingshuk Debnath as Subhash Singh picked up the loose ball and ran into empty space and slotted it past Shilton Paul to give the home side an early lead.
Mohun Bagan did not get pegged down by the early goal as Yuta Kinowaki and Cameron Watson controlled the midfield play through the neat interchange of passes and crucial interceptions. Bagan struck just four minutes later as Dipanda Dicka was brought down into the box by NEROCA keeper Bishorjit and the referee straight away pointed to the spot. Dicka stepped up for the penalty and found the back of the net with a well-placed powerful shot to bring the Mariners back into the game in the 21st minute.
As Mohun Bagn looked to regroup and take control of the game, they were stung by a fast-paced NEROCA counterattack down the left as Kingshuk Debnath found himself guilty of his second lapse of the game misjudging the ball’s trajectory as his failed headed clearance was picked by left-back Tondomba, who found Felix Chidi at the edge of the 18 yards box.Chidi made no mistake to make it 2-1 with his powerful finish leaving Shilton with no chance.
It was a game of reversing fortunes as both sides battled to gain an edge over the opposition and chances were getting created by the minute at both ends.Dipanda found the equalizer on the 36th minute as Arijit Bagui’s surgical cross found Dipanda’s header as NEROCA’s defenders were caught flatfooted as the striker found the net second time in the game to make it 2-2 for the visitors.
Mohun Bagan was dominant in the centre half of the pitch as they kept the NEROCA defence under persistent pressure and soon the dominance paid off as Akram Moghrabi found typical strikers poachers goal in the six-yard box heading in a flick-on from Yuta Kinowaki to give Mohun Bagan a 3-2 lead into the halftime break.
Into the second half Gift Raikhan handed NEROCA’s new foreign recruit Australian Nicholas Ward his debut and the midfielder started to have an immediate impact as he distributed the ball to Felix Chidi and Subash Singh to create telling pressure on Bagan defence.
Ward had a glorious chance to have his name on the scoresheet as his glancing header sailed over the cross-bar.NEROCA FC threw everything at Mohun Bagan as the Mariners had to resort to some desperate defending to protect their lead.Deep into the second half, Mohun Bagan had to make some goalline clearance from the goalmouth melee and defended deep into the half with Yuta and Watson assisting the back-four.
As the time kept ticking towards the final 45 minutes, Mohun Bagan’s tactical change to bring Raynier eased the pressure as they managed to keep possession going into the 5 minutes of injury time.Mohun Bagan held on to the nerves as saw through the remaining minutes defending their frugal lead to steal three points from NEROCA FC but damaging their title prospects in the process.
With the crucial away win Mohun Bagan’s top-four prospects looks secured as they on 4th place with 24 points from 15 games, while NEROCA’s title aspirations will depend on Minerva FC and East Bengal’s performance as the Imphal side are left with just one away game against East Bengal.