Shillong, Jan 25: After 12 games without a win, Shillong Lajong beat defending champions Minerva Punjab 1-0 in Chandigarh today to breathe some life into their disappointing season.
Substitute Naorem Mahesh Singh broke the deadlock in the 84th minute for his third goal of the season to give Lajong their first points since they drew at home with Minerva 2-2 in November and their first win since the start of the season when they defeated Aizawl FC 2-1 at home with a brace from Naorem in October. This was also SLFC’s first away victory and first clean sheet of 2018-19.
Phurba Tempa Lachenpa also had another good game in goal and came away with his second consecutive man-of-the-match award.
Minerva, who haven’t been able to secure a win for themselves in their last seven encounters, were desperately looking for three points. As a result, they kicked-off with an attacking intent and that showed clearly in their game as they were constantly pressing the young Lajong players at short intervals.
The hosts, who made some interesting moves through both sides of the flank, couldn’t really find success partly due to lack of a good finish, and partly due to the observant and strong defence line of Lajong. On the few occasions when they broke into the opposition box they failed to make the most of their opportunities.
Lajong made even fewer moves forward, but theirs were more organised. Kynsailang Khongsit made an attempt in the 31st minute that was blocked out by the defenders, while Minerva pressed early in the second half, but Lachenpa and his defenders foiled the hosts.
In the 56th minute, SLFC brought in Naorem, replacing Samuel Lalmuanpuia, and that brought around a sea change in the visitors’ attacking style. Naorem, in combination with Khongsit, made continuous attempts, finding ways into the Minerva box, but their lack of a good finish barred them from taking the lead.
Lajong really came close to scoring in the 75th minute when Kitboklang Pale made a brilliant run from the centre line to play a beautiful pass to Khongsit inside the Minerva box, but to Shillong’s disappointment, the latter could not contain his shot, which went wide, denying the young visitors another clear chance to score.
The visitors’ attacking game finally yielded results in the 84th minute when an attentive Naorem finally found the back of the net, scoring on a rebound off Minerva and former Lajong goalkeeper Nidhin Lal. The rebound was a result of a shot from Sheen Sohktung that Nidhin saved but failed to collect safely.
Shillong attempted to double their lead in the 88th minute when Pale’s attempt was beautifully saved by Nidhin. The game, thereafter, saw the hosts trying hard to equalise, but the young Lajong defenders prevented that.
Despite the win Lajong stay in bottom place with seven points, but they have at least reduced the margin to 10th-placed Aizawl to three points. They will now return home to take on Churchill Brothers on 5th February.
(Photo: All India Football Federation)