I-League: TRAU come from behind to beat NEROCA FC 2-1

TRAU FC came from behind to beat NEROCA FC 2-1 in a riveting first Imphal Derby of the 2022-23 I-League season at the Khuman Lampak Stadium, here on Sunday.

Tangva Ragui’s first-half volley put NEROCA ahead at the break, but TRAU responded in swift fashion in the second period. Gerson’s header restored parity before Komron Tursunov sent his penalty crashing into the woodwork. Ultimately, Godfred Yeboah’s injury-time goal settled the contest in favour of the Red Pythons, who brought an end to their three-game winless run in the Imphal Derby in the Hero I-League.

It was an even affair, to begin with, as both TRAU and NEROCA cancelled each other out in the middle of the park. However, the Orange Brigade soon began to see more of the ball, albeit largely in their own half as Komron Tursunov led a staunch press for TRAU.

The first attempt of the derby fell NEROCA’s way in the eighth minute as midfielder Mirjalol Kasimov laid the ball for his Uzbek teammate Sardor Jakhonov outside the area, who ballooned his effort over the crossbar.

Khogen Singh’s side made the breakthrough with their first meaningful attack of the evening in the 20th minute. Nonganba’s strike from the edge of the area took a huge deflection off a red shirt and the ball dropped for Jourdain Fletcher inside the box. The Jamaican smartly chested it for youngster Tangva Ragui, who volleyed it into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.

The concession made TRAU shift up a gear and search for a quick response. The centre-back duo of Godfred Yeboah and Gerard Williams were key to the Red Pythons’ build-up play.

Up front, pacy winger Salam Johnson Singh, who has netted twice in his last two games, almost combined with Tursunov for the equaliser. The Indian entered the box from the right before squaring the ball across the goal for his captain, who was just offside.

NEROCA suffered a big blow to their midfield at the half-hour mark as Jakhonov had to be stretchered off due to an injury and was replaced by Mumbai City-loanee Naorem Tondomba Singh.

Towards the end of the first half, Tursunov was caught late on the ankle by a sliding challenge from NEROCA captain David Simbo, earning him a yellow card from referee Surojit Das, who also had to intervene as tempers flared between both sets of players.

TRAU were on the front foot in the second half from the get-go and got their reward as early as the 47th minute when Brazilian midfielder Gerson headed in Tursunov’s free-kick. The Tajik international whipped in a tricky delivery from the right, which took a bounce before Gerson swiftly beat his marker to guide the ball past Soram Poirei in the NEROCA goal.

TRAU were awarded a golden opportunity to take the lead just seven minutes later when Baoringdao Bodo was brought down by David Simbo inside the penalty area and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Skipper Tursunov immediately stepped up to take the spot kick only to thump it onto the top-right of the frame of the goal.

TRAU, determined to bag all three points after the penalty setback, launched wave after wave of attacks but the Orange Brigade stood firm at the back.

NEROCA had their best chance of the second half against the run of play in the 70th minute when Fletcher skipped past a couple of red shirts before cutting it back for Lunminlen Haokip from the right. With just the keeper to beat from six yards out, the 21-year-old fluffed his lines, missing his kick.

At the other end, Gerson forced Poirei’s first save of the game with a curling effort from 25 yards out. The NEROCA goalkeeper did well to palm it out for a corner. In the 77th minute, defender Gerard Williams found himself completely unmarked inside the NEROCA penalty area but sent his blistering effort just over the crossbar.

It turned into an end-to-end affair during the final few minutes of the match as both sides didn’t seem content with sharing the derby spoils. And there was to be a winner, TRAU FC, who scored from the last action of the game.

Tursunov’s corner was flicked by Khanngam Horam toward the goal and Poirei reacted quickly to make a good save. But defender Godfred Yeboah was on hand to score from the rebound with an overhead kick from close range. The goal sparked raucous celebrations from the Ghanaian, who took his shirt off before being crowded out by his TRAU teammates.

The result meant the Red Pythons have now won all three of their home games this season, lifting them up to fifth in the table with 10 points. NEROCA suffered their third straight loss, dropping to 11th place with six points.

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