Shillong, Jan 19: A much-improved and feisty Shillong Lajong were beaten by a narrow 1-0 margin by title contenders Real Kashmir at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here today.
Aaron Katebe found the back of the net with a header off a corner kick in the 74th minute. After seven away games Real Kashmir have still yet to lose; this was their fourth win on the road this season and Lajong’s 11th defeat, of which seven have come consecutively.
Alison Kharsyntiew changed things round with his first eleven, swapping out Neithovilie Chalieu in place of eventual man-of-the-match Phurba Tempa Lachenpa in goal. He also brought in Phrangki Buam and Lalawmpuia Hnamte for Samuel Lalmuanpuia and Sheen Sohktung.
On paper this might have made Lajong look less overtly attacking, but there were chances throughout the game for the hosts, who relied on fast, darting moves into the box to put the Snow Leopards under pressure.
Half time ended goalless, but it was clear that the Lajong team have been working very hard since their disastrous 3-0 defeat against Indian Arrows last week at home, with passing, defence and communication all much-improved.
As early as the fourth minute Lajong had a good chance after Kitboklang Pale was bundled over on the edge of the box. The free-kick, taken by Pale, came off a defender and Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi shot the rebound over.
The visitors would get a chance of their own in the eighth minute when Nagen Tamang, who has played for Shillong clubs before, went narrowly wide at the near post.
A little while later Lachenpa came off his mark to punch out a dangerous cross that had Mason Robertson’s name all over it. The goalie was pretty much the only Lajong player who rivalled the tall ones from Kashmir in height.
Lachenpa would go on to make another great save close to half time when he was blinded by one of his defenders, but still managed to get enough behind the ball to deny Tamang.
Just before that SLFC went close again when Naorem Mahesh Singh went up the middle and passed to Kynshi, who ran into the box and fired the ball on target, but opposing goalkeeper Bilal Khan blocked it in the 40th minute.
After swapping ends, Lachenpa made the save of the evening in the 48th minute, flinging himself to the right to foil a Robertson attempt.
The second half saw end to end action with both sides having the upper hand on occasion, but no goal was forthcoming until Katebe found the back of the net in the 74th minute.
Two minutes later Lachenpa got back to making good blocks, denying Robertson on yet another occasion. He was to deny the Briton again with less than 10 minutes left on the clock when he palmed the ball onto the upright.
However, there was no way back for Lajong at the other end and full time ended with the visitors the winners in a game that the Reds really did not deserve to lose.
Lajong will now travel to Minerva Punjab to face them on 25th January, while Real Kashmir return home to play league leaders Chennai City on 28th January.
Lajong: Phurba Tempa Lachenpa (GK), Lalrohlua, Nabin Rabha, Kitboklang Pale, Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi (sub Sheen Sohktung 89′), Naorem Mahesh Singh, Phrangki Buam, Novin Gurung, Lalawmpuia Hnamte (sub Samuel Lalmuanpuia 63′), Aiban Dohling (C), Kenstar Kharshong
Real Kashmir: Bilal Husain Khan (GK), Dharmaraj Ravanan, Mason Robertson, Aaron Katebe, Loveday Okechukwu (C), Khalid Qayoom (sub Danish Farooq 74′), Bazie Armand, Surchandra Singh, Abednego Kofi Tetteh (sub Gnohere Krizo 73′), Abhash Thapa, Nagen Tamang (sub Khaidem Vicky Meitei 60′)