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Neroca hold East Bengal, finish second in maiden I League season

Friday, March 09, 2018

Kolkata: Neroca FC wrapped up a memorable I-League debut season by finishing runners-up after holding heavyweights East Bengal to a 1-1 draw,  here yesterday.

It was heartbreak for both the Kolkata heavyweights, as they failed to win the title with East Bengal finishing fourth in the table behind arch-rivals Mohun Bagan who also played a 1-1 draw with Gokulam Kerala FC.

In quest for the elusive I-League title, East Bengal required to win the match and pray for a favourable result from other two matches.

But with eventual champions Minerva Punjab winning 1-0 over Churchill Brothers at Panchkula, East Bengal fought a losing battle.

The Khalid Jamil's men also had an uninspiring first-half that saw them squander at least four opportunities, and trail by Felix Chidi's 42nd minute goal.

In the second-half, East Bengal showed some urgency and their Nigerian leading scorer Dudu Omagbemi, who missed at least three chances, finally found the net in the 73rd minute.

But that was not enough, as Neroca FC put up a solid defence backed by goalkeeper Lalit Thapa who was adjudged man-of-the-match for his brilliant show under the bar. "We were inspired by Aizawl FC's I-League triumph in their maiden appearance last season. I hope many more teams from Northeast come up in future," Thapa told reporters at the post-match news conference.

In hindsight, East Bengal will lament their 2-2 draw at Shillong Lajong FC with some sloppy defence in display as Khalid Jamil's wards virtually blew their I-League title hopes from being 1-0 up in the 20th minute.

Jamil's defensive tactics against Shillong to drop points will be questioned as the I-League-winning Aizawl FC coach took the blame on him. "I cannot pinpoint just one match, there have been many (for our debacle). Only I am responsible. The reason is only coach," he said in a sarcastic tone.

"Players are working very hard, officials provide all the facilities, it's the coach who is at fault. We did not win the I-League, it's my mistake. (Champions) Minerva Punjab are the best team, no doubt about it."

On his future at the club, he said: "I don't know, we will see after discussing with officials tomorrow."

It was a tale of missed chances for East Bengal who squandered at least four attempts at the goal including a sitter by Joby Justin in the 36th minute, as the Manipur held a one-goal advantage at the break.

Justin found himself in front of an open net from a cross coming in the right from Mahmoud Al Amna as the goalkeeper was completely caught out.

But Justin failed to turn and push the ball into the empty net, a minute after Dudu Omagbemi missed his second chance in the first half. Chidi cut inside the one defender marking him inside the box, ran a little to his left and the goalkeeper is left scampering for the ball.

Keeping his calm, Chidi turned it in to draw the first blood. Neroca FC mounted pressure on East Bengal through Subhas Singh and Fabien Vorbe.
East Bengal finally found the equaliser with Dudu finding the target from a Lalram Chullova cross.

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