I-League: NEROCA, Gokulam Kerala share points

All remained even between NEROCA FC and Gokulam Kerala FC at the Kalyani Stadium on Thursday as both sides settled for a point each after returning to action in the Hero I-League. The result puts both sides on four points from their opening two matches of the season.

NEROCA began the stronger of the two teams, winning the physical battle in the opening exchanges in dangerous areas in the opponent’s half. Spanish duo Juan Mera and Sergio Mendiguchia appeared to be at the heart of NEROCA’s creative engine and looked the likeliest source for the Manipuri side to break the deadlock. Combative midfielder Jiteshwor Singh had an influential first half as well, proving to be a bundle of energy and winning the ball back for NEROCA FC on multiple occasions.

Despite NEROCA making all the early running, the first big chance fell the way of the defending Hero I-League champions Gokulam Kerala FC in the 11th minute. Jithin M.S. led the counter attack for his team with a surging run up the field before sliding a pass into the path of Jamaican forward Jourdain Ronaldo Fletcher.

Fletcher had the opportunity to put the Malabarians into the lead, but his shot was blocked with a perfectly-timed last-ditch tackle by Abdul Salam, who bailed out his side with his teammates caught out of position.

Abdul Salam became the central figure again in added time of the first half, but this time towards the other end of the field as the right fullback made his way into an advanced position in Gokulam Kerala’s penalty area. Salam used some quick step-overs to evade his defender and create a yard to take his shot on, but his effort lacked the power to genuinely worry Gokulam Kerala shot-stopper Shubham Dhas.

Both sides came out with plenty of attacking intent and energy in the second half, but it was a tale of missed chances and efficient defending in equal measure to keep the score at 0-0. Gokulam Kerala’s Slovenian forward Luka Majcen had the first big chance of the second half after combining well with strike partner Ronaldo Fletcher. Upon receiving the ball near the penalty spot, Majcen was quickly crowded out by three onrushing NEROCA defenders, thus producing a tame effort that ballooned over the frame of the goal.

As the game progressed into the business end of the second half, both teams began to show signs of fatigue, as the gruelling effects of the game began to show on a number of players in the outfield. For all of NEROCA’s territorial dominance, the Manipuri side looked short of ideas to unlock the rigid Gokulam defence.

On the other hand, Gokulam Kerala threatened to grab a goal on the break at regular intervals, but could not quite add the finishing touch to their attacking play. The respective coaches made a slew of changes after the hour mark to add some energy into the contest, but effective defending from both sides meant that they would have to settle for a draw on the day.

Gokulam Kerala will look to get back to winning ways when they take on Real Kashmir FC in their next encounter on March 7, while NEROCA FC will come up against TRAU in an exciting Imphal Derby, later on the same date.

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