Shillong, May 1: Shillong Lajong will play the first of their Second Division League final round matches against United SC on 6th May, according to the fixtures prepared by the All India Football Federation.
Five clubs have qualified for the final round – Delhi FC, FC Bengaluru United and Ambernath United are the other three. Lajong had made it through as the best second-placed team across the four groups after defeating East Bengal reserves here on Saturday.
The final round will be played between 6th and 26th May in a single leg format. Each team will play two home games and two on the road. The top two teams will then be promoted to the I-League next season.
However, the venue for Lajong’s home fixtures has yet to be confirmed. TSR had heard that while Third Ground in Polo here was okay for the group stage, it may not be acceptable for the final round and SLFC’s matches might have to be moved elsewhere.
Another issue is that the final round will clash with the Meghalaya State League 2023. Lajong are scheduled to play their first MSL Season 3 match on 15th May, just one day before they are to face Ambernath in Mumbai. It seems likely that some adjustment will have to be made to the MSL fixtures. What nobody wants to see is a repeat of the Shillong Premier League 2017 when SLFC had to forfeit their semifinal against eventual champions Langsning because of an I-League match especially as it could mean the difference between having a Shillong-based club back in the I-League or not.
In the group stage, Delhi FC, who finished third in the 2021 I-League Qualifiers, emerged as toppers and qualified for the final round in a closely-contested group. They got off to a slow start after losing two of their first three outings but a four-game winning run got Delhi back on track before a 1-1 draw with Downtown Heroes on Saturday proved enough to seal their place in the final five.
Group C saw Bengaluru United finish five points clear of closest challengers Golden Threads FC. Built on a strong defence, with just five goals conceded in their eight games, they will now target a first-ever promotion to the I-League.
Group D witnessed the most nail-biting and dramatic finish of all the groups. Second Division League debutants Ambernath scored a last-minute winner against ARA FC to win 2-1 on the final day and thus edged the Ahmedabad-based side to finish top of the table based on a better head-to-head record.
Shillong Lajong fixtures:
HOME vs United SC, 6th May
AWAY vs Delhi FC, 11th May
AWAY vs Ambernath United, 16th May
HOME vs FC Bengaluru United, 21st May
(TSR file photo)