If ever you needed proof of how much things can change in football in a month, you need not go further than the reverse leg of the Imphal derby, scheduled to be played between hosts NEROCA FC and ‘away’ side Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) FC, at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in the Manipuri capital on Saturday (February 8, 2020). (More Football News)
When the two teams had met earlier in the season, it was NEROCA who were on the up and started as favourites in the derby. However, TRAU registered their first win of the I-League in the very same game, which catalysed an amazing turnaround in their fortunes. They have been on a five-game unbeaten streak since, including a four-game winning run and find themselves in title contention with half the league still to go.
NEROCA have gone the other way, suffering defeat in three of the following four games and are in ninth position with hopes of winning the title looking very distant at the moment.
However, it also brings out what a good derby performance can do to a squad of players and the same was not lost on NEROCA’s talismanic captain and keeper Marvin Devon Phillip. Speaking ahead of the game, the veteran Trinidadian custodian said, “Yes, it's derby time again and we are preparing to get it right this time. This game is massive for us not because it's a derby but its massive because we are having a string of bad results at the moment. We are definitely working hard towards getting three points and try climbing the table.”
TRAU Technical Director L. Nandakumar Singh was also upbeat ahead of the game, saying, “We are confident of a good show, especially after giving a good display of our brand of football away at Gokulam. That was a tough game and the entire squad is happy to have performed well. It is a derby so it is natural that both sides will go all out for a win.”
TRAU seemed to be having a more settled side at the moment with all positions well marked out. They have experience and solidity at the back with Oguchi Uche and Sandeep Singh giving a lot of assurance ahead of keeper Mithun Samanta, who has been good overall. Wahengbam Angousana Luwang as distributor-in-chief and the wing-play of Khundongbam Krishnananda has been outstanding. The skills of attacking midfielders Premjit Laishram and Falguni Konsham along with the power and hustling of captain Princewill Emeka upfront have all caught the eye.
NEROCA have brought in Subhash Singam from Real Kashmir and his play down the left flank, which impressed one and all last season in the same colours, might just provide the booster dose required. Along with Pritam Ningthoujam on the right, this might just open up more options to create chances. Zodingliana Ralte and Varun Thokchom have also impressed in patches but what will worry Gift Raikhan most will be his defence, which has let in 21 goals till now the worst record in the league.
Derbies, they say, bring the best out of rivals and from a neutral perspective, once can hope that these two very exciting sides dish out an exciting game of football on Saturday afternoon.
The 13th Hero I-League clash between the two popular local sides kicks off at 5 pm and will be shown LIVE on 1Sports and can be streamed live on Fancode.