NEROCA FC extended their 2017-18 I-League unbeaten run to six matches as they defeated the Indian Arrows 2-1 at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium in Imphal on Friday.
Subhash Singh's first-half brace (39' and 45') ensured his team romped to the second spot in the league table. Second-half substitute Abhijit Sarkar scored in the 89th minute to notch a consolation goal for the visitors.
Experienced defender Gouramangi Singh Moirangthem started for the first time this season as Thangjam Saran Singh and Govin Singh made way from the starting XI. Moirangmayum Ashok Singh also made a rare start as Gift Raikhan made two changes from the 1-1 draw to East Bengal.
For Luis Norton de Matos, a wholesale alteration was the order of the day as skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam returned from suspension. Rahim Ali, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Suresh Singh Wangjam and Jeakson Singh Thounaojam were also brought in. Abhishek Halder, Deepak Tangri, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Abhijit Sarkar, Aniket Jadhav, Edmund Lalrindika were left out.
The hosts would have broken the deadlock in the thirteenth minute itself had Haitian midfielder Fabien Vorbe headed in a free-kick floated by Glen Aryn Williams past Prabhsukhan Singh Gill but the linesman had already raised the flag for offside.
NEROCA FC kept their attacking fervour alive as Felix Chidi and Gopi Singh tested the Arrows' backline innumerable times. Amarjit Singh was forced to drop back and form a three-man central defence to hold the fort.
It was Singam Subhash Singh who opened the scoring with six minutes to go for the half-time whistle. Gouramangi Singh played the long diagonal ball to the former Mohun Bagan man and swivelled past a hapless Suresh Singh before losing the ball to Rahul KP. Akhlidin Israilov retrieved the ball and picked out Subhash as he rushed into the box who chipped the ball into the net over the helpless keeper.
Amarjit did try to peg one back from an ambitious shot a couple of minutes later. After Rahim Ali could not connect from a cross inside the box, the ball was cleared out as far as Amarjit who forced Lalit Thapa into a fine diving save.
The second goal came soon for NEROCA. A goal-kick from Lalit Thapa fell to Subhash Singh. The in-form forward ran with the ball, beat Anwar Ali for pace, and found the net with a left-footed shot, giving Prabsukhan Gill no chance.
The hosts went into the tunnel with a comfortable two-goal cushion with half the game to play.
While Sanjeev Stalin was replaced with Roshan Singh Naorem after the resumption, the onslaught did not stop there. Subhash Singh almost got his hat-trick but for an effort which went just wide and Akhlidin Israilov hit the crossbar three minutes past the hour mark, that too from a shot taken from outside the box.
Serbian attacker Nedo Turkovic was brought on for the last ten minutes of the game and won a penalty from his first piece of action inside the box with Boris Singh at fault. Fabien Vorbe stepped up and converted on his first try but it was disallowed as a NEROCA player had entered the box prematurely. On his second attempt, the Haitian could only hit the bar.
Indian Arrows were handed a consolation goal when Abhijit Sarkar scored his maiden league goal coming on as a substitute when he tapped home from Rahul KP's cross.
The Manipur-based side now has fourteen points from seven games with the advantage of a game in hand over leaders East Bengal. They travel down south to take on Chennai City FC in Coimbatore on Tuesday while the Arrows take on Shillong Lajong in an away game on Monday.