IMPHAL: NEROCA FC did all the hard work but Rajasthan United did what a team needs to win a football match - scoring the goal. This sums up the I-League match at the Khuman Lampak Stadium on Thursday, as they romped to a 1-0 victory on Thursday.
Pushpender Kundu's tenth-placed side jumped ahead of NEROCA on the points table (22 points from 19 matches) to take eighth place with this victory. With none of the teams below them having more than four matches at their disposal, Kundu can justifiably hope that his team has already escaped relegation.
On the other hand, it is a demoralising result for NEROCA. If there is something called a scrappy win, Rajasthan United got that on Thursday. They have looked in better shape even in some matches they eventually lost. Wangkhem Khogen Singh's men basically have themselves to blame for this defeat. They created many more chances than their opponents but could not convert even the easiest of them. They could even count themselves a bit unlucky for the goal they conceded.
Uzbek striker Otabek Zokirov may not have expected to score from that half-hearted right-footer from the edge of the box at the half-hour mark. NEROCA goalkeeper Soram Porei was at the right place to grab it. It is just that the ball changed its direction after hitting Paogoumang Singson on the way.
But NEROCA got so many chances that Zokirov's lucky break should not have mattered. Most chances were created by Jamaican forward Jourdain Fletcher, who played an exceptional game and deserved more on the night. But their teammates let him down too often.
Strike partner Bayi Kamo had a rather poor day in the office. The only time he looked at his best was four minutes after Zokirov's goal. He was surrounded by four Rajasthan United defenders on the edge of the box, yet unleashed a right-footer at the goal. Vishal Joon stretched himself to tip it over the bar. Thereafter, it was a story of misses for Kamo. He had a clear, unchallenged look at the goal coming in from the right in the 57th minute but shot wide of the far post.
Rakesh Meitei wasted the next chance a couple of minutes later. Fletcher delivered a free-kick from the left at the far post and David Simbo headed it down to Kamo at the other end of the box. He did well to set up Rakesh at the goalmouth, but the defender kicked way over.
The easiest chance, however, was wasted by Kamo in the 65th minute. It was an incredible solo run by Fletcher down the right on a counter-attack, all the way to the Rajasthan United box. Kamo was there on the other side to accept his cross with all but one defender left behind. But Kamo's first touch was so heavy that it went far enough for Joon to collect.
Kamo could have redeemed himself had midfielder Tangva Ragui been able to beat Joon with his left footer and thereby salvage a point four minutes from time. It was once again Fletcher's chip from outside the box that was chested down to Ragui by Kamo. But Joon dived to his left to keep NEROCA at bay.
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