The second Northeast derby of the 12th Hero I-League played between Aizawl FC and Neroca FC at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Aizawl ended in a goalless draw. Both teams had their chances in a game where hosts Aizawl had a slightly better of exchanges, but a goal eluded them throughout the 90 minutes. Both Aizawl and Neroca now have two points from three games and remain on the bottom rungs of the standings.
The second half saw more end-to-end football and was clearly more entertaining but both Gurpreet in the Aizawl goal and the Neroca custodian Maouro Boerchio managed to return their first clean sheets of the Hero I-League campaign.
Both the coaches, Gift Raikhan of Aizawl and Spaniard Manuel Fraile of Neroca go away from the game with their worries around their strikers not converting chances.
Gift, coaching for the first time against his previous side, chose to field an unchanged eleven from the previous game against Mohun Bagan. Fraile meanwhile effected four changes into the eleven which started the last game against Gokulam Kerala.
Neroca’s Singham Subhash Singh lost his place and so did Denechandra Meitei and Tondonba Singh. They were replaced by Biaklian Paite, Sebastian and Jerry Onesemas. The fourth however was forced and a blow of sorts for the visitors as dependable centre-back Eduardo Ferreira of Brazil who had scored against Gokulam got injured during the warm-up and had to be replaced by under-22 Abdul Salam.
Understandably then Neroca were the more circumspect, to begin with and Aizawl pressed hard for a goal early. They earned as many as six corners in the first 30 minutes of the game but could not break through.
Nigerian defender Kareem Nurain of Aizawl had two close shaves through two free kicks. In the 23rd minute, Aizawl’s third corner of the game saw Neroca defender Sebastian make a hash of his attempted clearance and the ball fell to Alfred Jaryan whose powerful volley from just outside the keeper’s area was well saved by Boerchio.
Neroca then sprung to life at the beginning of the second half and Malem missed a couple of opportunities within the first four minutes. A couple of more chances were squandered by Felix and Australian Aryn Williams for the visitors before Jerry in the 54th minute, found himself free inside the box after a wonderful 1-2, but his shot was straight into Gurpreet and he parried the ball out for a corner.
Aizawl came back into the game with the introduction of Ivorian Zikahi Dodoz in place of Lalrinfela. However, the home team’s Liberian striker Ansumanah Kromah was guilty of many a missed opportunity including being caught off-side, at times inexplicably, as many as four times.
Gift Raikhan then brought on David Lalrinmuana with 10 minutes to go in an attempt to break the deadlock. David, who had scored from a brilliant free-kick in the Mohun Bagan game to salvage a point for the former champions, did get a couple of opportunities.
The best among them was in the dying minutes of injury time when his free-kick from the left flank found Valpuia with a free header inside the box but he headed straight to the keeper.
Aizawl FC will now play host to defending champions Minerva Punjab FC on November 10, 2018 and Neroca will travel to Srinagar to challenge Real Kashmir FC on the next day.