The Manipuri side got back to winning ways to keep their hopes of staying afloat in the league while Gokulam took a hit on their title chances
Pritam Singh (2′) gave the hosts an early advantage but Shibil Muhammed (25′), Nathaniel Garcia (40′) saw the Malabarians back in the game until a dominant second half by NEROCA paid dividents through Phillip Adjah (48′) and Ronald Singh (81′) who took advantage of some shoddy defending by the visitors.
Gift Raikhan made three changes to his XI after a 6-2 loss against Mohun Bagan as Bishorjit Singh, Ousmane Diawara and Jiteshwor Singh replaced Marvin Phillip, Zodingliana Ralte and Varun Thokchom.
On the other hand, Fernando Valera included Jestin George, Nicholas Fernandes and Atutheire Kipson in the stead of Andre Etienne, Muthu Mayakkannan and Henry Kisekka.
Just two minutes in, Pritam was alert to pick a lose ball around the edge of the Gokulam box before turning it onto his left foot and sending a rasping shot into the top right corner to give the hosts the lead.
A minute after Busai Attila saw his shot saved by Ubaid Kadavath after the Gokulam goalkeeper had punched out a corner taken by Subash Singh, Marcus Joseph disected the rival defense to play the ball short of Bishorjit as Shibil rushed in to round off the NEROCA goalkeeper to score the equaliser in the 25th minute.
Gokulam went into the break with a goal’s lead as Garcia connected to Joseph’s delivery with an unstoppable right-footed half-volley in the 40th minute.
Mohammed Irshad seemed to have misjudged Dhananjoy Singh’s delivery in the Gokulam box of which Adjah fanced a shot at goal but handled the ball. Then Sebastian Thangmuansang’s throw-in left Irshad vulnerable with Adjah making the best of his second opportunity to slot it home in the 48th minute.
Both teams continued on equal footing until around the 70th minute when Subash forced a save from Kadavath before Joseph shot wide at the other end. Kisekka, who replaced Nicholas Fernandes in the 64th minute, missed to hit the target twice within 10 minutes.
However, mistakes in the Gokulam box continued as Jestin awkwardly tried to head a low cross by substitute Chanso Horam as Ronald took the bite of the cherry by charging in to force the ball across the goalline to earn three valuable points for his side in the relegation battle.
Kadavath saved Gokulam from conceding off Adjah in injury time while Bishorjit, too, made brilliant back-to-back saves to deny Garcia and subsitute Rajesh S before full time.