NEROCA FC kept up the pressure on runaway league leaders Minerva Punjab as they beat Churchill Brothers by a solitary goal at Goa on Tuesday.
The importance of the win was not lost on NEROCA coach Gift Raikhan as his side closed the gap with Minerva to two points although the Punjab side have two games in hand.
“This match was very important for us though we didn't get enough rest, but my players know how to give their live for the club. This is a good sign for the club. The player's spirit is wonderful,” Raikhan stated.
The former Churchill Brothers player conceded that his side had been lucky to walk away with all three points from the Tilak Maidan stadium.
“We are very lucky today. I know how difficult Churchill Brothers can be. Our plan was to counter, be compact and defend well. Though our plan was a success, we were lucky because there were a few chances that our goalkeeper had to save. The same happened against Minerva (Punjab) when they scored within two minutes and we couldn't score after trying hard. I feel sorry for Churchill Brothers because I played for them from 2000-2002, but I am a coach now,” he explained.
The NEROCA tactician also gave an explanation as to why playmaker Akhlidin Israilov had been dropped for the tie.
“What I demand, he (Israilov) is not giving me. He is a very talented player but I want something different from all the players. I want something different from Felix (Chidi), Fabien (Vorbe), (Varney) Kallon, Subhash (Singh) but I'm not getting it. So maybe if he (Israilov) sits out for one match, it will make him realise and then we'll see. I will support him and surely he (Israilov) will come back (strong),” he stated.
His opposite counterpart Alfred Fernandes meanwhile bemoaned the referee’s decision to award NEROCA a penalty in the 22nd minute.
“We almost dominated in the normal period of time. I think the penalty was very soft. For me, the opponent player (Subhash Singh) did not even claim for that penalty. So I don't know how he (referee Williams Joy Koshy) could give a soft penalty like this and kill us,” he remarked.
The 1-0 loss brought an end to a run of four matches unbeaten for the Goan side.
“We were playing very good football, creating opportunities and converting them also, but today it did not go our way. For me, Kalu (Ogba) could have earned a penalty. If a soft penalty was given against us, a legitimate one to us was not awarded,” Fernandes added.
With a grueling run of fixtures coming up for Churchill Brothers, the head coach said there might be some changes in the squad for the games to come though the core would remain the same.
“We may take a call tomorrow itself as we have some back-to-back matches and less time for recovery also. Maybe two changes will come in but the core of the team will remain because we fought like champions. At least a point would have been well-deserved for the way the boys fought on the pitch,” Fernandes stated before signing off.