Shillong, Sep 16: The 2021-22 season of the Shillong Premier League has not matched the high expectations that Shillong Lajong’s players, management and fans have for the club.

The four-time champions (2014, 2015, 2016, 2019) had to wait until Round 5 of the current season before they bagged their first victory and never looked like they would be able to defend their title.

Currently in sixth place, with one round to go, Lajong have, at least, avoided the danger of relegation, after beating Mawkhar yesterday. It was also against Mawkhar, back on 11th July, that SLFC won their first match of the season.

Lajong went into this season with the experienced and highly regarded Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet as coach. The players were all youngsters but they knew their coach well, as many have been with the Lajong youth setup for years. Many of these same boys had played under Nongbet when H Elias Higher Secondary School won the Subroto Cup in 2019.

Nevertheless, the squad was just a bit too young.

“We started with a bunch of boys who were all greenhorns. The lack of experience really cost us a lot,” Nongbet said yesterday. The team management had realised they were short of experience and had looked to register a few more players but were not permitted to do so by the Shillong Sports Association, the organisers of the SPL.

“So, we had to go with the academy players only. We will definitely look to strengthen the team and come back stronger next year,” Nongbet said.

The team will have wanted to challenge for the title but have found themselves quite some distance away from that. Still, their coach can see plenty of positives.

“We are happy that the boys got so much match exposure to exhibit their skills. That’s what we did this year and we learnt a lot. If we get some more experienced players, that will take this team to another level. But with this exposure, we know that we are on the right track. If we can maintain our progress then we will have no problem for next season,” he said.

Nongbet also had particular words of praise for Mawlai goalkeeper Neithovilie Chalieu. He has been in goal for the full 1,000-plus minutes and conceded just 4 goals in 12 games. In fact, it took until Round 8 before a team managed to score against him and Mawlai.

“Mawlai have very experienced performers, especially their goalkeeper. He has made a lot of difference and you can see that many matches have been won by him,” Nongbet said.

In fact, the two go back a long way, as Chalieu captained the Lajong team coached by Nongbet that won the national U-18 Youth League (now known as the Elite League) title in 2018.

(TSR file photo)

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