Panchkula (Haryana): Defending Champions Minerva Punjab FC are all set to host northeastern outfit Neroca FC in their penultimate I-League home fixture at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula on February 23.
Minerva are currently placed in the ninth spot with 14 points from 16 games, while Neroca are placed fifth in the points tally with 26 points paying one game more.
In the first leg when Neroca hosted Minerva, the game ended in a goalless draw. The hosts have just garnered one point from their last six games and have not been able to garner a win since December last year when they defeated Quess East Bengal 1-0 in Kolkata.
What adds to their woes is the fact that the defending champions have just scored twice in their last nine encounters.
Meanwhile, the Punjab outfit played against Iranian Club Saipa FC in the AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 2 at the Shahr-e Qods Stadium in Tehran, Iran which eventually, they lost by a margin of 0-4.
Minerva coach Sachin Badadhe, who got his AFC ‘A’ License of late said, “We are pretty confident for tomorrow’s game after Neroca’s performance in the last few games. We will be playing our game and hope the players will have the capacity to take what is coming.”
“We weren’t able to concentrate in a few of our games but now the team is playing better. Our foreign players have started playing good football. We have been practicing hard and are looking for positive results.”
Neroca, on the other hand, have lost three in their last six encounters having drawn twice and won once, fall short by a distance for the title contention. Although they made a dramatic come back in the second half, conceding three goals in the first half of the match against Chennai City FC would give the coach reasons to introspect.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Bhutanese attacker Chencho Gyeltshen has only added more sheen to Neroca’s attacking line.
Coach Manuel Fraile said, “In the first game, we were very unlucky but I have seen my team who can perform better than the opponents. We have to give our best and take three points. Yes, we couldn’t beat them at our home but we have another chance tomorrow at their home and we have to take this chance with both hands.”
“Minerva have a few new players who can damage us heavily. We have to be very careful but my team is ready.”