NEROCA had a spirited start to their I-League campaign. Even though they lost to Minerva Punjab in their first match in the top flight, they went on to record impressive draws against Kolkata giants, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, along with wins over Gokulam Kerala, Indian Arrows, Chennai City FC and Shillong Lajong. They were motoring along brilliantly, with talks of dropping back into the 2nd division long forgotten.
A big victory over defending champions Aizawl FC meant talks of a title challenge were gaining momentum. It was not just the victory, but the way they achieved it that was heartening. NEROCA swept the defending champions aside, and were on the up in the I-League table. Mishtry was doing very well in between the sticks, while Felix Odili and Subhash Singh kept NEROCA going forward.
NEROCA are not a free flowing side, they have scored just 19 goals in 17 games, which includes 4 1-0 victories and 3 0-0 draws. They have a solid defence, which has done really well to keep some of the more attacking talents out. NEROCA have not done well against the fellow top 4 sides, collecting just 2 points in 5 games, with zero victories and 3 defeats. But they have done really well against the bottom placed sides.
NEROCA have done the double over Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala FC and Indian Arrows, that is 18 points in 6 games against the bottom half opponents. Add 4 points each against Aizawl FC and Chennai City FC, and it is clear why NEROCA are title contenders. NEROCA have been one of the reasons for bringing life back in Imphal.
Minerva Punjab - 32 points in 17 games
NEROCA - 31 points in 17 games
East Bengal - 29 points in 16 games
But they have been sitting and waiting since the 18th of February, with the scheduling of the games leading to a gap of 20 days in between their last two games. And if East Bengal win against Shillong Lajong, then the game could very well turn out to be a top of the table clash to win the I-League title.
NEROCA are trying hard, and are turning into one of the stories of the season, with their title run being compared to that of the high profile clubs like Leicester City and FC Rostov, clubs which battled relegation the previous season, only to win the league title (FC Rostov finished 2nd, a spirited and logic defying run nevertheless). NEROCA’s solid defence has been the bedrock for their success, and they will have to come up with a big defensive performance to win the title in Kolkata.