Defending champions Gokulam Kerala’s winning run at home in the 2022-23 I-League was halted with a 0-0 draw against NEROCA FC at the Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri on Thursday.
NEROCA were the dominant side in the early stages, with midfielders Mirjalol Kasimov and Tangva Ragui doing most of the running. The Orange Brigade, however, were unable to translate that possession into goals, while the hosts were happy to sit back and defend.
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The first real chance of the contest arrived at the half-hour mark as Lunminlen Haokip unleashed a low effort from a narrow angle, which was met by a strong save from Shibinraj Kunniyil in the Gokulam Kerala goal. Moments later, Shijin struck the goalpost at the other end for the Malabarians. The forward, who has scored three goals this season, darted into the box from the right before dispatching a low strike, which crashed into the far post.
Spurred on by the big opportunity, Gokulam Kerala started to grow into the game towards the end of the first half, creating a flurry of chances from set pieces. On one such occasion, Dilip Orawn delivered an inch-perfect corner for Pawan Kumar at the back post, who sent his header just wide.
Richard Towa made a triple change at the break, bringing on the attacking trio of Thahir Zaman, Dodi Ndo and Noufal PN in search of a breakthrough. However, the first piece of action in the second half took place at Gokulam Kerala’s end as their custodian Shibinraj saved Haokip’s first-time shot from inside the box. Two minutes later, Kasimov sent a stinging free-kick towards goal and the home goalkeeper was on hand again to tip it over the crossbar.
There were two great heading opportunities for both sides to win the game towards the final whistle, but it wasn’t to be. First, NEROCA’s Haokip nodded wide from a decent Surchandra cross from the right flank. Then it was Gokulam Kerala skipper Aminou Bouba, who sent a free header inches off target from a corner.
With the stalemate, Gokulam Kerala missed the chance to go top of the table. The Malabarians are now on 15 points, one behind leaders Sreenidi Deccan. NEROCA stay in 11th place with seven points from eight matches.
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