NEROCA FC remarkably overturned a two-goal deficit in a space of 12 minutes to inflict a 3-2 defeat on Kerala Blasters FC in the last pre-quarter final of the Hero Super Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
Kerala thought they would comfortably progress to the next round when Victor Pulga and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni put them in the ascendency, but three second-half goals from Jean Joachim, Aryn Williams and Felix Odili Chidi turned the tie on its head.
The Blasters were on the front foot from the very start and almost took the lead within the first 10 minutes when Milan Singh curled in a beautiful free-kick from 25 yards out, but missed the bottom corner by mere inches. In the 11th minute, Gouramangi Singh was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box and a penalty was awarded to Kerala, which Pulga calmly slotted into the bottom left corner to open the scoreline.
David James’ side almost doubled the lead in the 25th minute when Prasanth’s curled effort was on target, but NEROCA custodian Lalit Thapa managed to make a fingertip save to deny him. Less than a minute later, Kerala were awarded with another golden chance when CK Vineeth found himself through on goal with only the keeper to beat but hit the side-netting instead. And with that, the teams entered the break with Kerala deservedly in front.
The second half started in a similar vein with Kerala dominating proceedings. Within minutes they doubled their lead through Prasanth. Courage Pekuson fizzed the ball in across the six-yard box and the 20-year-old was at the right place at the right time to tap it in. That served as a wakeup call for NEROCA as they created their first real chance of the game when Varney Kallon forced a brilliant save off Kerala custodian Paul Rachubka.
But NEROCA finally pulled a goal back in the 71st minute when Joachim found himself unmarked inside the box and turned swiftly to deliver a thunderous shot past the keeper. A minute later, Kerala thought they had restored their two-goal cushion when Vineeth managed to net the ball but was caught offside.
Within a matter of minutes, the Manipur-based club restored parity through Williams. Pritam Singh floated the ball into the danger area and Williams ghosted in from the far post to head the ball into the bottom corner for the equaliser. Thereafter, things went haywire for Kerala as Wes Brown’s handball inside the box gifted NEROCA a penalty. Chidi stepped up and successfully converted it to take his team to the quarter-finals, while Kerala bowed out of the competition. (Hero Super Cup Media team)