Jagne, Koffi the goal scorers
Shillong, Jan 24: Shillong Lajong FC delivered arguably their best performance of I-League 2017-18 and bagged the rewards, beating NEROCA 2-0 in Imphal today.
Saihou Jagne scored his first goal for the Reds in the 13th minute (the fastest goal for Lajong this season) and Abdoulaye Koffi doubled the lead in the 18th to win the fourth North East derby of the season. It was just the second defeat all season for NEROCA and a great comeback by the Meghalaya team after a series of underwhelming performances.
It was a match where Lajong performed at the top of their capabilities on all fronts – defence, the midfield and (finally) in attack as well. Daniel Odafin was back from suspension, while Nidhin Lal played his first match in the SLFC goal.
Rakesh Pradhan was delivering excellent long balls and crosses all match and Jagne capitalised on one of the former in the 13th minute to slot the ball past NEROCA goalkeeper Shambu Mishtry. This was the first time that SLFC have scored a first half goal in 10 games.
The hosts then sunk deeper when Koffi headed in a delivery off Novin Gurung, with the ball clipping the post before crossing the line with less than 20 minutes on the clock.
Second-placed NEROCA were off their game today, with the men in orange unable to take advantage of long balls and set-pieces.
Cushioned by their two-goal lead Lajong were understandably more defensive in the second half, but even then some haphazard defending by the Manipur team kept Jagne and man-of-the-match Koffi interested until they were both substituted.
NEROCA kept most of the possession throughout the 90 minutes, but Lajong, who were working brilliantly as a team, had their measure.
Singam Subash Singh scored the winner when these two sides met in Shillong last month, but he couldn’t find the mark today and he was replaced by another former SLFC player in the second half – Sushil Singh – who didn’t really bring in any new ideas to the hosts’ challenge.
A win would have put NEROCA on top of the standings, but they’ll have to reassess their performance and come back harder in the next game. They remain on 21 points, one behind Minerva Punjab, but the latter now have two games in hand.
Lajong move back to fourth place with 17 points and will travel to Gokulam Kerala for a match against the bottom club on 28th January brimming with confidence.
(Photo contributed by Shillong Lajong)