THE MANIPURI CLUBS held their own taking on top opposition in I-League, with both NEROCA and TRAU holding former champions Chennai City FC and top contender Real Kashmir FC to 2-2 draws over the weekend.
Chennai City FC, who have always had a tough competitive rivalry with NEROCA (in previous encounters each club won once and rest of the games were draws), hosted them on Saturday needing a return to winning ways after dropping points in the previous two matches.
They got off to a great start, winning a penalty midway through the first half which Katsumi Yusa promptly converted. Minutes later, Mashoor Thangalakath found the net for the Lions once again. But just before half-time, the visitors struck back, through the promising 19 year old medio Khaminthang Lhungdim.
The second half began as both sides sparred, CCFC looking to seal the deal and NFC seeking the equalizer. The break-through came just after the hour-mark when NEROCA got a penalty and Boubacar Diarra scored it.
The match wasn't without its share of controversies and both the penalty decisions were called into question both by the players and fans online. But at the end, the scoreline stood 2-2; a consequential result for both clubs who were trying to break into top three with a win receiving a potential setback in the tightly contested league.
Watch the highlights of the match here courtesy broadcasters DSport...
Meanwhile on Sunday, Tiddinm Road Athletic Union Football Club aka TRAU FC, had been having a tough time on their inaugural season in I-League. They lost their first three matches and were struggling at the bottom of the league table. Facing Real Kashmir FC, who held East Bengal to a 1-1 draw away from home in their first match of I-League before having back to back home matches cancelled due to snow in Srinagar, was always going to be a difficult task for the newly promoted side.
And indeed it was Real Kashmir FC who began on a dominant note in Imphal, with Mason Robertson finding the net just before the half-hour mark. RKFC stayed ahead at half-time.
The first half of the second period was mostly a cagey performance from both sides but in the last 15 minutes the floodgates opened.
Yendrembam Meitei set up Olariche Emeka for the equalizer about 78 minutes in. Then, 5 minuts later, Oguchi Uche found a second goal for TRAU and the ambitious underdogs were leading for the very first time.
But just as it seemed like TRAU were about to register their historic maiden I-League victory, Real Kashmir struck back. It was Kashmir's local hero Danish Bhat who set up Mason Robertson for his brace and the all-important equalizer; ensuring a thrilling 2-2 conclusion to the game.
Watch the highlights of the match courtesy DSport...
So far Real Kashmir FC have played just 2 matches, both of which ended in draws. They're 9th on the table with 2 points, but they're also one of the three undefeated clubs in the league, which shows how incomplete the current picture in I-League is (e.g. Churchill Brothers are 4th with 6 points but they have just played two matches and won both; a sleeping title contender).
TRAU, however, will be happy they're not at the bottom of the table any more; although they're still very much on the relegation spot since Indian Arrows have immunity as a developmental team.
Interestingly, both the clubs who were held by the Manipuri clubs, will face each other next. Real Kashmir FC will finally get to play a home match this season, with their encounter with defending champs Chennai City FC kicking off early at 12 pm on 26th December.
The match will hopefully be broadcast on DSport, for all the fans around the country to see.