Manipur-based side NEROCA FC take on the Indian Arrows at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium on Friday, in a return leg 12th Hero I-League fixture.
A game they have to win to harbour any hopes of getting close to the second place finish that they secured in their debut season last year.
NEROCA have 22 points from 14 games so far, eight behind leaders Chennai City and cannot afford any more slip-ups in this business end of India’s top-flight football league.
The Arrow, on the other hand, are lying eighth on the table with 13 points from 14 games and have already bested their debut 11th Hero I-League season’s record of three wins. They will fancy their chances at home, given NEROCA have faltered in their last three outings, losing two and drawing one.
NEROCA’s Spanish coach Manuel Fraile will have to inspire his players after failing to put it across Aizawl at home last week as the Arrows are an ever-dangerous side and good enough to take advantage of any opponents not at their best.
He sounded positive in the pre-game press chat though, sharing, “The preparation is coming good. We are hoping to take the three points. It is a difficult team and the players are young. We are fighting to be on the top. We have a good team with experienced players. We lost with Mohun Bagan and Churchill in the past matches but we have a good fight which matters.”
He added, “We have missed our chances sometimes. We are looking forward to give our best and also to enjoy the game of the local players. Eduardo and Aryn Williams are suspended for this match but football is a team game and the rest of the team has players who are mature and professionals.”
Floyd Pinto, the Arrows gaffer, has also remained ever-positive with his young side and that should help them put behind memories of a 0-3 drubbing at the hands of their Friday opponents in the first leg.
Floyd, in his match-day eve interaction, had this to say, “Happy to be back home. It was not a good experience when we played in NEROCA. No game is easy for us. If you look at the points table, we have been doing really well so far. The performance of the boys have been improving as the season has gone on but now we have reached that stage where we have to get points as well and I am sure we’re going to have a good performance tomorrow. Either we keep a clean sheet or score one goal more than NEROCA.”
Even in their last game against a clearly superior Churchill Brothers, the Arrows held their own and even got an equaliser through Deepak Tangri before being felled by the league’s highest scorer Willis Plaza’s goal-scoring prowess.
The clean-sheet tactic which Floyd alluded to might just work for the Arrows. It is a key game statistic where they are at par with NEROCA this season with five each. The Imphal-based unit, on the other hand, will look at their 3-0 all-win record against the Arrows to remain positive.
Both teams are known to play flowing football and it should be an absorbing battle at the Kalinga on Friday.