Brimming with confidence after his side’s nine-match unbeaten run in their debut season, Neroca FC head coach Gift Raikhan on Tuesday made it clear that the Manipur club can lift the I-League title and create Indian football history.
Neroca, the first Manipur side to have qualified for the I-League, are now at second spot with 21 points from 10 matches and a win on Wednesday at home against Shillong Lajong will take them to the top position ahead of Minerva Punjab (22 points from nine matches).
Out of the eight matches left in the league, the Imphal based side will play six at home and that has given them a lot of hope to have a go at the title.
They have not lost at their home venue Khuman Lampak Stadium till now, winning twice and drawing once so far.
“I hope the wish of the people of Manipur (of Neroca winning the I-League) is fulfilled. It will be a great achievement if Neroca does not lose a single home match and that will be crucial (for a title win). We will try our best, we want to create history in Indian football which will pave a new path for other clubs to emulate,” head coach Gift Raikhan said ahead of his side’s match against Shillong Lajong tomorrow.
For a side being run with a shoestring budget, Neroca have shown that their top spot finish in the second division to make it to the I-League was no fluke.
They have played out draws against heavyweight sides like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, who have several times bigger budget, while beating sides like defending champions Aizawl FC, Chennai City FC and Indian Arrows.
“We are doing very good so far, may not be a prefect script but doing very well. The run has been good so far and we hope to continue our strong show,” said Raikhan, a Manipuri himself.
Raikhan, who has served as Pune FC assistant coach, said that the win against Aizawl FC has been particularly a morale-boosting one for his side.
“The win against defending champions Aizawl has been a huge confidence booster. We were under pressure in the first half and they scored first. But we changed our strategy in the second half and we scored twice. A new team like Neroca defeating a defending champion in away match is a big result. The win gave the players the confidence that they can do well in the remainder of the league and that they can beat any team. They now have high hopes,” said the coach, who was also instrumental in guiding the side to second division league title to qualify for the I-League.
Last year, in a fairytale script, Aizawl FC clinched the I-League title in their debut season in one of the most unexpected achievements in Indian football history.
Neroca have conceded just six goals from 10 matches and their central defender Kallon Kiatamba from Liberia said that the players have executed the plans of the head coach perfectly.
“We are doing very well in defence and executing the plans of the coach. I am having good understanding with Gouramangi Singh because he is an experience player who has played for India,” he said.
“We are doing very well in defence because of the understanding we have among me, Gouramangi and also other younger players. We know what the coach wants because we have been together for some time.”