An 86th-minute match-winner from Aryn Williams sealed a 1-0 win for NEROCA over Churchill Brothers in an entertaining affair at the Kuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Wednesday.
Gift Raikhan asked Nedo Turkovic to lead the attack with Saran Singh, Gopi Singh and Subash Singh offering him support from the attacking band of three. Lalit Thapa continued his recovery but wasn't fit enough to demand a start as Bishorjit continued in between the sticks.
Monday Osagie and Hussain Eldor recovered from the shock of Indian Arrows' late comeback in their last game to form the defensive pair at the back for Alfred Fernandes' side. Kalu Ogba, Bektur Talgst, Nicholas Fernandes and Dawda Ceesay all fit into the starting lineup as Churchill Brothers looked to bank on their change of fortunes since the start of 2018.
If not for the determined James Kithan in goal, NEROCA could have scored in the second minute of the game. Tondonba's cross into the box was headed at goal by Aryn Williams from close-range but the goalkeeper extended his fists to parry the ball away.
The trend of first-half substitutions continued as Israil Gurung was thrown into the equation in place of Harshad Naik in just the 22nd minute.
Gurung crossed for Nicholas Fernandes who looped the ball back up into the air. Kalu Ogba headed the ball down for Dawda Ceesay to send a powerful strike at goal, Kiatamba put in a well-timed block to prevent a sure-fire opener for the visitors.
Then arrived Nicholas Fernandes' Mario Balotelli moment. Britto's pass allowed the Churchill winger time and space to tap the ball into the net from three yards out but the Goan tried a backheel strike that failed miserably.
It was Eldor's error that led to Arrows' match-winner in Churchill's last game and once again, the defender's ball-playing skill was called into question when Aryn Williams stole the ball of his feet following a high press. Luckily for the defender, Williams failed to beat Kithan one-on-one and the scoreline stayed intact.
Just as the match looked like it was destined to end in a stalemate, Williams struck the winning blow in the 86th minute. The midfielder, who had missed multiple chances to score up until then, chested down Saran Singh's long ball and struck hard into the net to clinch three points for his side.
Williams strike helps NEROCA to the top of the I-League table, albeit temporarily. They are two points above Minerva Punjab having played 16 games.