Aizawl FC remained the better side for more than an hour but NEROCA overcame the one-goal deficit to score two in the last twenty-five minutes to register a 2-1 win away from home in the I-League on Saturday.
NEROCA FC head coach was a content man. "If we can take three points in every match, it is very good for the future. Aizawl FC was playing very well today. They know how to play on this ground and they had the support from the crowd. Hard luck that their defender Kareem (Nurain) picked the injury. That's the reason I got more opportunity and my plan was successful", he commented.
"We came here to collect three points, wherever you go. Sometimes we play good, sometimes not so good but we work hard together. The first half in 25 minutes or so we weren't playing well. Football is not only about playing good but scoring also"
"I put in Nedo (Turkovic) who is a tall striker and David (Lalbiakzara). I told David that just one cross is enough. David is always a decider. Last time also in the Durand Cup he scored the winning goal. This time also the winning goal came from his assist", he revealed his masterstroke.
However, he maintained talking about the title is premature. "I cannot say this (another champion from the north-east) because there is a long way to go. I trust my players."
His counterpart Paulo Menezes suffered his second home defeat and was dejected by the lack of options in defense. "Kareem's (Omolaja) injury changed the game. We had to change in the middle, we had to adjust some players. Masih (Saighani, suspended) and Kareem - our game is supported by these two players, not just while defending but when we have the ball. We tried to put Hmingthan Mawia. He is a young boy and gave his best. We didn't have substitutes with the same kind of experience", he expressed.
The Portuguese added, "We lost the ball and the team was not organised and Avilash (Paul) saved once but it was a goal (on the second attempt). The second goal (Nedo Turkovic) is a mistake. I don't say that it's one player's mistake. When you go on the counter you have to fall back, but my players forgot (to fall back) maybe."
Yugo Kobayashi appealed for a penalty in the 71st minute but was turned down by referee Raktim Saha. "I asked Yugo (Kobayashi) and from the bench, I saw that Yugo was going to shoot and the defender (Varney Kallon) touched Yugo's foot. I asked Yugo to be confident and he said that it's a penalty. Yugo suffered a lot of fouls but the referee (Raktim Saha) says nothing but when we cannot touch another player", opined Menezes.
He also added it was not the end of title hopes for the defending champions and much depended on the players who were out injured. "We have many games and many points (to win). When teams play against each other and many teams will lose points. We have a big game against Mohun Bagan and you just have Minerva (Punjab) on top. After that, our (games against) tough opponents, in theory, will be over. We have many games to recover. We will not give up."
"He (Kareem Omolaja) told me that he cannot stand. I hope it's nothing serious. I don't like the feedback. I hope that we can recover our players. We talk about Kareem and Masih but we forgot about David (Lalrinmuana). These three players are very important to us. Our midfielders are good but not like David. Others in our central back are very good players but not like Masih and Kareem because they are different."
While Menezes confirmed that the club has not chosen the squad yet for the AFC Champions League qualifier against Zob Ahan, he expressed he was happy with the current squad despite a limited budget.
"We want to focus on the games in the I-League first because if any player knows that he is not in the AFC, may it will influence them (negatively). You know that the club doesn't have (a lot of) money. I don't complain. I am happy with my players. I will try to take advantage with what we have", he concluded.