Imphal: History was made in the first-ever Imphal derby as Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) FC registered a magnificent comeback victory over their city rivals Neroca FC at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium on Wednesday, January 08 to pick up all the three points -- their first win in the I-League 2019-20.
Boubacar Diarra gave the visitors the lead in the 9th minute before Naocha Singh equalised for TRAU in the 41st minute. Krishnananda Singh headed home for the hosts in the 64th minute, which turned out to be the match-winner.
Both sides made three changes each, with TRAU FC head coach Dimitris Dimitriou opting to start with Krishnannanda and Naocha upfront to partner Princewill Emeka. Geron Augustus Williams also found a place in the midfield three, but the backline remained unchanged.
Gift Raikhan recalled Togo forward Zico Sekle to his Neroca starting XI, pairing up with Diarra in attack. Young midfielder Jiteshwar Singh was also named to start, ahead of Gaty Kouami. Zodingliana replaced Khanngam Horam and found a place next to Khaminthang Lhungdim in the middle of the park.
The game lived up to its billing of a derby right from the kick-off. In the second minute, TRAU goalkeeper Mithun Samanta came off his line to clear a lobbed delivery but made a total hash of it. His attempted clearance fell straight into the feet of Chanso Horam, who saw the goal gaping and chipped it over the keeper. However, Abhishek Das was at the right place to head it clear off the goal line.
Neroca's persistent pressing paid dividends quite early. In the ninth minute, a Sushil Meitei delivery inside the box was met with a ferocious left-footed volley from Diarra, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance as Gift Raikhan's men drew first blood in the Imphal derby.
Despite going ahead, TRAU continued to apply pressure and created a number of chances. In the 17th minute. A beautifully threaded pass by Phalguni Singh put Naocha through on goal and with only the keeper to beat but he hit it straight at him.
In the 32nd minute, Emeka displayed some exquisite footwork with smart twists and turns, which left young defender Taryk Sampson completely at bay and allowed the TRAU skipper to get his shot away but Marvin Devon Phillip between the Neroca sticks was alert to the danger and made the save.
In the 41st minute, it was Emeka again with some neat footwork on the left flank and this time, he delivered a cross which was met by an outstretched leg of Naocha, who sneaked in through the near post. Right before half time, TRAU had their equaliser and the stadium erupted with chants of 'TRAU FC, TRAU FC'.
The second half resumed with the same intensity and vigour, as Raikhan wasted no time in making his first change. In the 48th minute, Gaty Kouami was brought on at the expense of Zico Sekle, who had a quiet first half. The change signalled a switch in formation, from a classical 4-4-2 to a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1, leaving Diarra as the sole striker upfront.
Neroca were unable to put TRAU under pressure as the home team kept the possession extremely well and created chances after chances.
They reaped the rewards of the same in the 64th minute when Krishnananda put them in the lead. Off an Angousana Luwang corner, Krishnananda rose the highest to head the ball home and sent the fans into frenzy.
TRAU almost added a third moments later but Patrick Uche's freekick from about 30 yards out ricocheted off the woodwork after Phillip had initially gotten a fingertip to the goal-bound attempt.
Neroca had one last opportunity in the dying stages of the game, when a beautifully weighted Sushil Meitei set-piece fell to Diarra, but this time, he misjudged the flight of the ball and could not put the header away.
The Imphal derby saw an official attendance of 23,682 and in front of the vociferous crowd, Tiddim Road Athletic Union Football Club registered thier first-ever I-League victory.
The victory takes TRAU to ninth place in the I-League standings with five points from six games, one above Neroca, who drop to tenth.