Ludhiana: Dipanda Dicka scored a brilliant hat-trick to help Punjab FC register a 3-2 comeback win over Neroca FC in an I-League match here on Wednesday.
Dicka fired home in the 27th, 43rd and 89th minutes after Varun Thokchom (4th) Philip Teteh (20th) handed Neroca a two-goal cushion early in the first half.
Punjab, who are now on a nine-game winning streak, have garnered 17 points from 10 matches, and are three points behind league leaders Mohun Bagan, who also have a game in hand.
Neroca will remain on eighth place with eight points from nine games.
Cameroonian striker Dicka is also now the sole top scorer of the league with eight goals to his name. This was his first hat-trick of the season and also the first of the 13th I-League.
Gift Raikhan of Neroca fielded new signing Philip Adja Tetteh of Ghana to partner Malian Boubacar Diara upfront while bringing on Ousmane Diawara at the back as Dhananjoy Singh sat out of the last game.
Yan Law, the Punjab coach, was forced to bench Brazilian Danillo, replacing him with Nirmal Chetri. Munmun also made the cut with Yumnam Raju sitting out.
Makan Chothe had the first clear chance for Punjab as early as in the second minute when a Cavin Lobo ball found him one-on-one with the keeper, but a heavy first touch was enough for Trinidadian keeper Marvin Devon Phillip to come out and collect.
Neroca took the lead in the fourth minute when Varun Thokchom's audacious, yet delectable back-flick from the near post off a corner, completely foxed the Punjab defence and keeper Kiran Limbu.
The visitors struck again in the 20th minute, this time thanks to a fatal back-pass by Liberian defender Teah Dennis. The loose ball was collected half-way by Tetteh, who deposited it over the keeper into the back of the net.
The double strikes were enough for Yan Law to immediately bring on Brazilian front-man Teixeira Junior in place of Chote.
Neroca's Siam Hangal was then booked for a foul on Dicka, resulting in a free-kick in a dangerous position outside the box and the Cameroonian did not let the opportunity go and curled a beauty past the wall and away from a fully stretched Marvin.
Dicka pulled his side back into the contest with a second just before the lemon break.
Off another set-piece, Sanju Pradhan floated one into the box for Dicka, who rose above his markers to head the ball home.
With the game heading towards a draw, Limbu's long hoik up the field seemingly bounced harmlessly inside the Neroca half.
As the ball made its way towards the box, Malian center-back Ousmane Diawara completely misread the bounce and Dicka pounced on it before the keeper could, to tap it past him into the net.