I-League 2020 Highlights: Neroca register hard-fought victory over Real Kashmir

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Malian forward Boubacar Diarra scored the match-winner as NEROCA FC beat Real Kashmir 1-0 to snap their four-match winless streak in the I-League at Imphal on Tuesday.

Diarra headed home in the 62nd minute to give Neroca their second win of the season at the Khuman Lampak stadium. Neroca also jumped to the seventh spot with eight points from seven matches.

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Real Kashmir slipped one spot to 10th, just above bottom-placed Indian Arrows, with six points from six matches.

Neroca head coach Gift Raikhan, seemingly desperate for a change in fortune, made a lot of changes to his line-up. Dhananjoy Singh and Roshan Singh started at the back while Imran Khan and Siam Hanghal formed the pivot in midfield. Varun Thokchom and Pritam Singh started on the flanks, with Diarra and Zico Sekle spearheading the attack.

Real Kashmir head coach David Robertson made just one change to his side, with Farhan Ganie starting ahead of Altamash Sayed, with the remainder of his 4-5-1 system remaining unchanged.

Neroca came close to scoring in the seventh minute when a Siam Hanghal set-piece on the right flank was not dealt with properly inside the Real Kashmir box, which allowed Taryk Sampson with a crack on the goal but his shot missed the target.

It was Hanghal again, in the 10th minute, when he crafted an inch-perfect cross into the box for Diarra, who had a free header on goal from barely a couple of yards out, but he missed an absolute sitter, letting Real Kashmir off the hook once again.

The visitors had their first attempt on goal in the 17th minute, when a scramble in the Neroca box led to the ball falling to Gnohere Krizo, who pulled the trigger from point-blank range, but Neroca were bailed out by a stunning save from their skipper Marvin Devon Phillip.

Real Kashmir had another golden opportunity in the 34th minute when a Mason Robertson delivery found Krizo unmarked, but the chance went begging as he headed over the bar.

Gift Raikhan’s men had another chance to break the deadlock, this time in the first minute of first-half stoppage time, when Diarra was through on goal and with only the keeper to beat, fired his shot straight at him, leaving the two teams level pegging at the break.

The ‘Snow Leopards’ came out in the second half with more intent and had the better of the opening exchanges. Krizo was in the mix yet again as he did well to get to the end of a Kallum Higginbotham cross and forced Devon Phillip into making an outstanding fingertip save.

However, it was Neroca who broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute, when a Pritam Singh cross was connected by a looping header from Diarra, which left Lachenpa backpedalling and helpless as the Khuman Lumpak stadium erupted in celebration.

David Robertson’s side kept pushing hard and they threatened through set-pieces. In the 81st minute, Mason Robertson showed his athletic prowess and pulled off a diving header which would make any forward proud, to connect a Higginbotham corner, but Devon Phillip was again in no mood to let anything past him, pulling off yet another stunning save.

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