Shillong, Feb 18: Shillong Lajong and Chennai City played out an engaging I-League match at the JN Stadium here today, with the league leaders winning 4-2.
The game began disastrously for Lajong, with Sandro Rodriguez scoring via a curling corner in the seventh minute and the home team’s goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa was stretchered off because of injury.
However, to the great delight of the Lajong fans, Kitboklang Pale equalised in the 23rd minute after an assist by Naorem Mahesh Singh. This was Pale’s first I-League goal and it came in his 10th appearance for the Reds.
Pedro Manzi and Nestor Gordillo scored for the visitors in quick succession in the second half before Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi converted a penalty, but they couldn’t find an equaliser and Manzi scored the final goal in the 90th minute.
Alison Kharsyntiew made just one change from the starting XI that he used in the 5-0 humiliation at East Bengal, choosing to go with Kynsailang Khongsit in place of Rakesh Pradhan.
Although the score was equalised a quarter of the way through the game, the rest of the first half was dominated by Chennai, who created chance after chance for themselves. Rodriguez, Manzi and Gordillo were continually involved in action as the visitors looked to restore their lead but they were unable to find a way through.
In fact the start of the second half was much the same and, though there were no goals, the match was still exciting to watch.
More than 50 minutes after he scored his maiden I-League goal Pale had a chance for a second when he went one-on-one with opposition goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio, who recently joined Chennai City from NEROCA, but his shot was blocked.
Two minutes later Chennai restored their lead when Manzi headed in a Rodriguez free-kick in the 78th minute and soon after their roles were reversed as Manzi crossed the ball for Rodriguez to head the ball home past Lachenpa’s substitute, Neithovilie Chalieu.
With the score going from an even 1-1 to 3-1 in Chennai’s favour within minutes, it looked like Lajong’s game was up, but when Naorem was fouled in the box in the 84th minute it gave SLFC a glimmer of a chance.
Kynshi stepped up to convert the spot kick for his second successful penalty in consecutive home games, but there was no way back and another Manzi-Gordillo tag team saw the former pick up a second goal on the day.
Although not completely convincing, Chennai strengthened their grip on the I-League title, moving ahead of second-placed East Bengal by five points (though having played an extra match). Lajong continue to remain mired at the bottom with 10 points and will stay at home to face 10th-placed Gokulam Kerala on 22nd February in what is an absolute must-win game.