Shillong, Nov 23: Defending champions Minerva Punjab came from two goals behind to draw 2-2 with Shillong Lajong in their I-League fixture at the JN Stadium here today.
Phrangki Buam and Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri (pictured) put Lajong into the lead before William Opoku and Philip Njoku equalised for the visiting side.
Lajong made several changes from the first XI that played in their last game against Churchill Brothers, with Nabin Rabha and Lyngdoh Nongbri making their first ever I-League starts. Neithovilie Chalieu came back in goal in place of Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, while Kenstar Kharshong and eventual man-of-the-match Novin Gurung also returned. Besides Lachenpa, the others to lose out were Mebankhraw Wahlang, Kynsailang Khongsit, Sheen Sohktung and Rakesh Pradhan.
In the 11th minute Minerva captain Lancine Toure went over the crossbar with a header off a free-kick. The visitors had the bulk of chances early on, with Lajong losing the ball too many times or just plain handing it to the visitors on a platter.
As it turned out, however, it was Minerva who gifted the opening goal to Lajong in the 24th minute.
A long ball behind the Minerva line saw Deepak Devrani give chase with Buam in hot pursuit. Devrani attempted to pass the ball to his keeper Arshdeep Singh, but he barely touched the ball and that opened up a chance for Buam to score, which he did high past the goalie.
The hosts then claimed a two-goal lead in the 43rd minute. Minerva were pressing high and a swift counterattack saw Lajong break with three men to Minerva’s two. Samuel Kynshi had the ball on the right and he tapped it to his left for Lyngdoh Nongbri to trap it and shunt the ball into the back of the net for his first goal in his first start.
SLFC should have held on to that 2-0 lead with half time so close, but a lapse in concentration saw Minerva reduce the margin. Joseph Edafe was first blocked by Chalieu, but the rebound went back to the Nigerian and Chalieu was out of position. Edafe then fed the ball to William Opoku, who scored from the edge of the box in the second minute of stoppage time.
Minerva must have been itching to get back on the pitch and find the equaliser but they shot themselves in the foot after they made all three substitutions at the start of the second half. One of these was Bala Al Hassan Dahir, a Nigerian, but since Minerva already had five foreigners on the pitch, he was called off by the fourth official and his team had to play the second 45 minutes with just 10 men.
Both goalkeepers made good saves early on in the second half, with Chalieu’s denial of a curling Akash Sangwan free-kick in the 58th minute especially noteworthy.
Samuel Lalmuanpuia, the Lajong skipper, then went just over the bar with his less-favoured left foot to keep the home fans expecting more.
However, it turned out to be the defending champions who scored, with Njoku chesting a chipped ball down and then blasting it into the net past a diving Chalieu.
Further chances came for both sides, but it ended all square on the chilly Shillong evening.
Lajong: Lalrohlua, Nabin Rabha, Samuel Lalmuanpuia (C), Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi (sub Mahesh Naorem Sing, 84′), Phrangki Buam, Novin Gurung, Lalawmpuia Hnamte (sub Sheen Sohktung, 79′), Aiban Dohling, Neithovilie Chalieu (GK), Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri (sub Rakesh Pradhan, 62′), Kenstar Kharshong