Shillong, May 26: Shillong Lajong FC created history at the JN Stadium here today by winning the U-18 Youth League 2-0 over Kerala Blasters, their first national title ever since they qualified for the I-League the second time back in 2011.

The home side were completely dominant and bagged the lead in only the fourth minute when a Samuel Kynshi free-kick clipped the boot of Blasters’ defender Lins Poulouse and went into the net in the fourth minute. Kynsailang Khongsit added the other goal at the opposite end of the match in second half stoppage time in front of several thousand delirious fans.

Lajong applied constant pressure and could have scored a couple more goals in the first 15 minutes after the opener but Parvaj Bhuiya and Donboklang Lyngdoh were off target.

The Blasters didn’t get the ball forward enough in the first half and were all over the place on the few occasions they did so.

The moment when Lins Poulouse put the ball into his own net for Lajong’s first goal (TSR)

Two minutes into the second half Lyngdoh was denied from close range and in the 52nd minute Buam couldn’t get his head to a nice chip into the box, which would have otherwise resulted in a sure goal.

Bhuiya had plenty of run-ins with opposition defender Alex Saji in the game, but he managed to pull off a solid attempt in the 75th minute which hit the upright.

The Kerala team were more aggressive in the second half and they hit the woodwork just four minutes after Bhuiya, which made it clear that Lajong’s one-goal lead was not an adequate safety net.

The visitors’ biggest threat was Abdullah KS, who scored both of the Blasters’ goals in the semifinal and whose speed on the ball could have turned the game around, except for some excellent defending by SLFC’s back line; Lajong have only conceded a mere three goals in 11 outings, while scoring 23.

Kerala Blasters had scored plenty as well on their route to the final – 22 – but couldn’t pierce the Reds’ defence today.

Lajong had plenty more chances to score goals right through the match, but could not find the mark. Then, in a counterattack in the first minute of second half stoppage time, Khongsit finally found a second goal for the hosts and from then on there was no way back for the Blasters.

The two sides became a little testy in the second half as Kerala Blasters became desperate to equalise and the match ended with only 19 men on the pitch after the ISL side saw two of their players – Poulouse and Suhaib S – sent off, while SLFC’s Buam was also shown a red card.

Speaking to TSR after the game, an incredibly happy Shillong Lajong managing director Larsing Ming Sawyan said, “I’m extremely elated and really proud of the team because they’ve been consistent right through the tournament. Having scored 23 goals and conceded three is a sign of a well-balanced team that has performed and to have those sort of stats in a national tournament gives us a lot of hope for the future.”

After Lajong first qualified for the I-League in 2009, the club has put a lot of effort into grooming young players for the senior team.

“A lot of the 2018-22 batch were in what you have seen just now and the way they’ve conducted themselves gives us hope for the future and sense of pride that whatever work we’ve been doing over the last few years is slowly paying dividends,” Sawyan, who is also the Meghalaya Football Association President and All India Football Federation Vice-President, said. “This is the first national competition we’ve won since the Second Division League in 2011. It’s special because there are more than 50 youth teams – all the teams from the I-League, some ISL and some other top academy teams like Tata Football Academy – and to perform well against them gives us a sense of satisfaction.”

Urban Affairs Minister Hamletson Dohling was the chief guest on the occasion and gave away the trophy to Lajong captain and goalkeeper Neithovilie Chalieu.

(TSR photos)

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