NEROCA FC came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Kerala Blasters 3-2 in the final round-of-16 clash of the Super Cup 2018 at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar on Friday.
Pulga and Prasanth K had put Blasters in front, scoring in the 11th and 49th minute of the match but Joachim Junior, Aryn Williams and Felix Chidi scored three goals in the span of 12 minutes to seal a memorable win for the Manipuri side.
Former Chennai City FC striker Joachim Junior made his debut for NEROCA and he started up front as the lone striker. Coach Gift Raikhan deployed Felix Chidi on the right flank. Aryn Williams played in the number 10 role just behind Joachim.
David James’s men lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with CK Vineeth starting up front.
Kerala Blasters broke the deadlock in the 11th minute when Pulga converted a penalty. Gouramangi Singh was at fault for handling the ball inside the box. His poor clearance allowed Milan Singh to get to the ball and deliver a cross into the box that hit the defender's arm.
The Indian Super League side dominated proceedings right from the beginning and showed more intent than the I-League runners-up. Prasanth came close to scoring the second goal for his side in the 26th minute after receiving a long ball on the right flank. He cut in from the right and sent a curling effort onto the post.
NEROCA’s only chance in the first half came just three minutes before halftime when Felix Chidi received a ball at the edge of the box from Joachim and went for the goal with a curling shot that Rachubka managed to save.
Blasters doubled their lead in the 49th-minute through Prasanth. Courage Pekuson exchanged a one-two with Pulga inside the box and then squared the ball towards the far post for Prasanth. The Blasters youngster comfortably tapped the ball into the net.
NEROCA came close to opening their account in the 61st minute when Kiatamba attempted a header from Pritam Singh’s cross from a point-blank range. But Paul Rachubka did well to fist the ball above the crossbar.
The I-League side pulled one back in the 70th minute as debutant Joachim Junior found the back of the net. Subash Singh floated a long ball into the box and the former Chennai City forward slotted past Rachubka at his near post.
They equalised in the 79th minute when Aryn Williams headed the ball in from Pritam Singh’s cross from the right flank. It was heartbreak for Blasters who looked the better side until the 70th minute.
In the 81st minute, Felix Chidi scored the winning goal from a penalty after Wes Brown was deemed guilty of a handball inside the box. Ashok Singh's low cross into the box deflected off Joachim's feet and struck the arm of Wes Brown. To be fair to the defender, the arms were placed close to the body.
NEROCA kept their lead for the remainder of the game and confirmed their place in the last eight stage where they will now face Bengaluru FC.