Shillong, Mar 8: Mohun Bagan came from two goals to one down to pull off a 3-2 victory against Shillong Lajong in the final round of the I-League at the JN Stadium here today.
It could not have been a worse start for Lajong as goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa committed a foul in the box in only the third minute, leading to Aser Dipanda converting the penalty against his former side. However, the hosts were to earn a penalty of their own at the fag end of the first half, which man-of-the-match Phrangki Buam converted to equalise proceedings.
Buam would go on to produce a sublime strike in the 53rd minute and that goal also took him to six for the season, eclipsing Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi (five). Sony Norde then equalised for the visitors by smashing a free-kick into the net in the 78th minute and Britto smashed home a rebound in the 88th for the winner.
Lajong rung in the changes for their final outing, starting with Freestar Kharbangar, Donboklang Lyngdoh (both making their maiden I-League starts), Lalrohlua, Hardycliff Nongbri (who has not been seen in action since December) and Lachenpa back in goal. Out went Rakesh Pradhan, Neithovilie Chalieu, Sheen Sohktung, regular captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia and Kynshi.
A mistake by Aiban Dohling gave Norde a run into the Lajong box, but the ball was probably going to run out, which meant that Lachenpa’s body tackle of the Haitian was probably unnecessary.
Dipanda would later have a second goal denied to him by the upright when he attempted to head in a cross and in the 19th minute Lajong counterattacked but Naorem Mahesh Singh was just about kept away from the ball by Bagan goalkeeper Sankar Roy.
Lajong then had numerous chances, but but the closest they came saw Lyngdoh’s strong strike smash into the horizontal in the 41st minute.
Buam earned the penalty after making a run into the box and was then pulled down by a visiting defender. He converted the spot kick by hitting the ball high into the net in first half stoppage time.
Then, early in the second half Buam was fed a through ball and went deep on the right with no one close to him. All alone, he smashed the ball past Roy to put his side into the lead in the 53rd minute.
Four minutes later Buam went just wide to miss out on a hat-trick and after that the Kolkatans started putting sustained pressure on the Reds, winning several corners and free-kicks in dangerous areas.
None of these came off for the visitors, but the few fans in the stands must have been on the edge of their seats every time Bagan had one of these set-pieces.
SLFC weathered the storm and then put some pressure of their own on the Mariners, with Naorem feeding a lovely ball into Buam, who went wide again, and substitute Parvaj Bhuiya (who made his I-League debut) almost getting a head onto a cross in an open position.
The visitors finally got the equaliser in the 78th minute when Kharbangar committed a foul right in front of the Lajong box, opening up the opportunity for Norde to score a blinder.
The winning goal came with two minutes of regulation time left on the clock. Lachenpa first made a good diving save to put out a sure goal, but he fisted the ball straight to Britto, who made no mistake with his strike.
Lajong thus bow out of the I-League with just 11 points, while Bagan move into provisional fifth place with 29.
Lajong: Phurba Tempa Lachenpa (GK), Lalrohlua, Kynsailang Khongsit, Hardycliff Nongbri, Naorem Mahesh Singh (sub Sheen Sohktung 83′), Phrangki Buam, Novin Gurung, Freestar Kharbangar, Aiban Dohling (C), Kenstar Kharshong, Donboklang Lyngdoh (sub Parvaj Bhuiya 57′)
Bagan: Sankar Roy (GK), Kingsley Eze, Sourav Das, Aser Dipanda (sub Darren Caldeira 90+2), Arijit Bagui, Lalramzauva Khiangte (sub William Lalnunfela 46′), Abhishek Ambekar, Lalchhawnkima, Shilton DSilva, SK Faiaz (sub Britto 71′), Sony Norde (C)