Shillong, Dec 23: Shillong Lajong were robbed of any Christmas cheer as they were defeated 1-0 by NEROCA in the second North East I-League derby of the season at the JN Stadium here today.
Singam Subash Singh put in an 83rd minute header off a cross from substitute Ningthoujam Pritam Singh for the Manipur club.
The second North East Derby of the season had the feel more of a practice match for the opening 30 minutes with no concrete scoring opportunities created by either side.
If anything it was NEROCA who seemed to have more attacking confidence, with Lajong guilty of being too tightly clustered in the midfield when they had the ball, which precluded attacking moves.
The Reds’ defenders, especially the tall foreigners Oh Juho and Laurence Doe, did their job at the back to hold off the Manipur side, but it was all a little too uninspiring, not helped by the small turnout of fans, who numbered no more than 2,000 at kick-off, though a few more did trickle in during the first half.
Aiman Al-Hagri did have a rather decent chance thanks to a long ball in the box just before 30 minutes, but he scuffed it from close range.
In the 32nd minute SLFC goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa tipped a header over the bar, which was the first of just three shots on target in the first half.
Although there was some doubt regarding the fitness of Lajong captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia ahead of the game, the No. 9 did feature in the starting line-up with heavy strapping to his knee. That appeared to take an edge off his pace and the role of taking free-kicks and corners fell to midfielder Hardycliff Nongbri in the first half, though Lalmuanpuia took over again in the second.
The second half was much of the same, with the tone set by Lalmuanpuia’s skying of the ball high over the bar soon after the restart.
The 68th minute did provide the hosts with a double chance, first from a free-kick close to the box and then a long ball that almost fell into place for substitute Abdoulaye Koffi.
Four minutes later Lachenpa made a stunning save to snatch the ball out of the grasp of Felix Chidi right in front of the goalmouth following a sharp cross.
Lajong’s fans finally got something to get excited about when Al-Hagri struck the woodwork twice in the space of a few minutes, first with his left boot and then with a header, but that was as close as they came to scoring.