SRINAGAR: Real Kashmir FC began their Hero I-League 2022-23 campaign with a 1-0 victory against NEROCA FC at the Khuman Lampak Stadium here on Sunday.
A second half strike by Seidu Nuhu set up a thrilling finish of the match, as the Hero I-League went from the south-western reaches of the country to the north-east in Imphal, Manipur, at the floodlit Khuman Lampak.
The visitors, for their part, looked to break on the counter, to feed the ball to Seidu Nuhu; the Ghanaian forward looked to get behind the NEROCA back line with his explosive runs, but the hosts held firm.
It was Real Kashmir on the counter, however, who had the first chance of the match, when Jerry Hmar broke down the left and tried his luck from outside the box, but the ball sailed over the cross-bar.
NEROCA’s Uzbek midfielder Sardor Jakhonov remained influential through the first half proceedings, acting as a fulcrum from deep in the middle of the park, something that greatly helped the hosts retain the ball for long periods of the game. For all their possession, though, NEROCA did not pose many serious threats to the Real Kashmir goal, that was guarded by veteran keeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury.
Nuhu, on the other hand, looked dangerous for the visitors, and got close to scoring near the half hour mark. As the Ghanaian shrugged off his marker at the edge of the NEROCA area, he tried his luck with a snap shot, but it was straight at goalkeeper Soram Poirei.
The 26-year-old was at it once again, when he laced it from outside the box, but Poirei stood tall and punched it to safety, with a little over 10 minutes of regulation time left in the first half. That was the last real chance of the first half, as the two sides headed into the tunnel with the scorers yet to be troubled.
Changing over, Real Kashmir came out with a lot of attacking intent, and they nearly prised open the NEROCA defence, when Davinder Singh skipped past his marker on the right near the corner line, cut into the box, and sent in a low cut-back to Nozim Babadzhanov, who slipped his shot inches wide.
A similar ploy a couple of minutes later, finally bore fruit for Real Kashmir, as Ghanaian midfielder Wadudu Yakubu broke unmarked into the NEROCA box from the right and sent in a hard, low cross that was smashed in by Nuhu.
NEROCA started showing a bit more urgency after conceding the goal, but some high pressing by Real Kashmir meant that the hosts could not put many passes together in the opposition half. Their first real chance of the second half came minutes after the hour mark, when a cross from the left by Lallenmang Sitlhou was headed by substitute Akoijam Singh at the far post, but it was straight at Subhasish.
As the evening wore on, NEROCA’s Ronaldo Fletcher grew into the game, often dropping deep to help his side create chances. The Jamaican forward pulled the trigger with a little over 10 minutes of regulation time left, but the effort was blocked by the Real Kashmir defence.
Fletcher had a couple of more runs at the Snow Leopards’ defence in the last 10 minutes of regulation time. The first time, his powerful run into the box was thwarted by Lamina Moro, who timed his sliding tackle to perfection, while on the second occasion, Fletcher cut to the goal line and sent in a low cross that was punched out by Subhasish, as it took a touch off Kamalpreet Singh and went out of play.
Captain David Simbo arguably had the best chance of the match for NEROCA, as an injury time corner by Fletcher was aimed straight at the former at the near post. However, he mistimed his header, which rolled harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s hands.
The hosts piled on the pressure in the closing minutes, earning a flurry of set-piece opportunities, but it was too little, to late, as Real Kashmir ran away with the three points at the end. (IANS)