Shillong, Nov 3: It was a day of reckoning for Shillong Lajong FC to see whether they really had what it takes to compete once again at the level of the I-League, from which they were relegated four years ago.
Making their highly-anticipated comeback, SLFC held their own against Mohammedan Sporting on the latter’s turf at Naihati, West Bengal, this evening in a 1-1 draw.
Lajong struck first through their Japanese signing Takuto Miki (45’+1) in first half stoppage time but this was cancelled out by a more feisty Mohammedan in the second half via David Lalhlansanga (53′).
Coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet started, as was expected, all four foreigners plus the strongest of his domestic line-up; perhaps the only surprise was that he used Bishal Lama in goal instead of the more experienced Neithovilie Chalieu but the latter would have to be called upon to don the gloves before the match ended.
If nerves were a factor for Lajong, they didn’t really show at the start. Indeed it was the visitors who began the match with more purpose and the hosts who were on the back foot almost immediately when Mirjalol Kasimov was shown a yellow card for pulling back Damaitphang Lyngdoh after Mohammedan gave away the ball in the danger zone. Brazilian midfielder Renan Paulino de Souza had two bites at the cherry, slamming the resulting free-kick into the wall and then going narrowly wide with the rebound.
There were two former Lajong players with Mohammedan – Zodingliana and Samuel Lalmuanpuia – while SLFC also had a former Black Panther in the form of Phrangki Buam.
The fast-paced game saw Lajong almost take the lead in the 25th minute when a cross by Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri wasn’t dealt with properly at all by Mohammedan but Takuto couldn’t control the zippy ball well enough for an attempt. At first glance it looked like he should’ve done better but replays showed that the ball had too much pace and was too far in front of him to get on top of.
Mohammedan had their chances as well, with a couple of shots blazed away from goal later on but it was Lajong who bagged the lead going into the break.
Another Allen cross was deep this time. A Mohammedan player tried to head it away but the ball went only as far as Takuto who slammed home the volley from within the box past the hosts’ goalkeeper Padam Chettri, who is, of course, a well known custodian from Meghalaya.
After the break the Black Panthers came out looking more aggressive. They made their intentions known immediately with a powerful shot going just wide less than 60 seconds into the second half.
It was up to substitute David to score as he got to a through ball leaving behind the SLFC back line in the 53rd minute. The defenders caught up with him but David swerved around two of them and then put the ball high out of reach of Bishal.
The Lajong keeper didn’t last much longer as he was on the wrong side of a clash with an oncoming Mohammedan player and had to be stretchered off, forcing Nongbet to bring on Neithovilie.
The visitors continued to give Mohammedan the jitters, though without really testing Padam again. In the 62nd minute substitute Sangti Janai Shianglong blazed a shot over the bar. He had two options, to go for goal or cut the ball back to Takuto. The shot was on but he was well off target.
Later, Abdou Karim Samb, Lajong’s striker from Senegal, flicked a header wide. He was there or thereabouts throughout the game but never really looked like setting it on fire.
SLFC then went into their shell in the last 15 to 20 minutes, more keen on taking a point on the road than risking defeat.
Overall it was a solid first performance and Reds’ fans will expect much of them when they return home to face NEROCA of Manipur in a North East Derby game on 9th November at First Ground, Polo.
Lajong squad: Bishal Lama (GK) (sub Neithovilie Chalieu 60′), Ronney Kharbudon, Kynsailang Khongsit, Damaitphang Lyngdoh (sub Sangti Janai Shianglong 56′), Takuto Miki (sub Kynsaibor Lhuid 81′), Hardy Cliff Nongbri, Phrangki Buam (sub Shano Tariang 81′), Abdou Karim Samb, Daniel Goncalves, Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri, Renan Paulinho de Souza