The Manipuri side edged the seven-goal thriller in an end-to-end encounter…
Phillip Adjah (5′, 37′, 82′) hit a hat-trick for the hosts who were helped by an own goal by Danilo Quipapa (59′) while Aser Dipanda (8′, 87′ pen) and sustitute Girik Khosla (59′) scored for the visitors.
Gift Raikhan made wholesale changes to the NEROCA 11 after a solitary goal defeat at Real Kashmir as Dhananjoy Singh, Jiteshwor Singh, Rojen Meetei, Subash Singh and Khanngam Horam were handed a start.
On the other hand, Yan Law also made a few changes after a 1-1 draw against Indian Arrows by bringing in Yumnan Raju and Samuel Shadap while Sergio Barboza returned from suspension.
Punjab started the tie with the better of the chances including Aser Dipanda hitting the upright after Himanshu Jangra squared the ball for the Cameroonian in the fourth minute.
In the very next minute, the home side took the lead on the counter. Imran Khan put a deligtful through pass for Adjah who didn’t waste his opportunity to find the far side of Kiram Chemzong’s goal with the outside of his foot.
Dipanda bagged his 50th I-League goal as Sanju Pradhan led the counter and put the ball on the platter past goalkeeper Bishorjit Singh for the former Mohun Bagan forward to place in an empty net.
Horam put enough pressure on Danilo Quipapa that allowed Adjah go one-on-one with the Punjab goalkeeper before the Ghanian cut past Chemzong and put his side back in the lead in the 37th minute.
Subash struck the right post towards the end of the first half but the miss of the evening had to be Horam ran through a goalmouth cross by Pritam Singh in the 55th minute.
Khosla, who replaced Himanshu Jangra in the 54th minute, drove in a peach of a volley after Anwar Ali kept Sanju Pradhan’s free-kick in play in the 59th minute.
Punjab’s fight-back suffered a blow when Raju picked his second booking in the 65th minute and the hosts reclaimed their lead 10 minutes later as Danilo headed a free-kick from Khan into his own net.
Adjah tore through the Punjab defense to complete his trebble in the 82nd minute but drama still persued as Khosla was deemed to be brought down in the NEROCA box as Dipanda reduced the margin of defeat from the resultant penalty in the 87th minute and substitute Nirmal Chettri’s bicycle kick hit the horizontal deep into injury time.
The win takes NEROCA ninth with 18 points from 16 games while Punjab (23 points) remain equal on points with East Bengal in a battle for the second spot as Mohun Bagan have clinched the I-League title with their win over Aizawl in a simultaneously played fixture on Tuesday.