Shillong, Nov 19: Shillong Lajong FC registered their first victory of the I-League 2023-24 in a controversial match against Gokulam Kerala FC at First Ground, Polo, here today.
Lajong won the game 3-1 with Daniel Goncalves (29′), Renan Paulino de Souza (75’P) and Hardy Cliff Nongbri (90’+8) scoring for the hosts and Nili Perdomo (43′) for the visitors.
There were two huge moments of controversy, if you’re a Gokulam fan, both in the second half after Lajong took a 2-1 lead – the first when the Kerala club apparently wanted to make a double substitution. The fourth official had only completed the process for one when the referee allowed play to resume.
This was a blow to Gokulam as, although teams can make five substitutions, there can only be three moments in the game (not including half time) when players can be brought on. This double substitution was meant to be the third and final occasion and so Gokulam weren’t able to bring on that intended other player.
Confusing enough as that is, the visiting side were left further infuriated by the third goal. A long ball saw Hardy and Abdou Karim Samb take off into the Gokulam half of the pitch. It seemed to TSR that the assistant referee raised his flag for offside for a moment before bringing it back down but that half a second was enough for Gokulam to give up the chase. Hardy could’ve passed to the open Karim but took the shot himself. Although the referee never blew the whistle for offside, the Gokulam players gave up chasing the ball after the assistant briefly raised his flag. That the goal stood incensed the Gokulam players and staff and we were in for a second heated pause to the action, with even the security guards getting caught up in the commotion.
Although it was an ugly way to end the game, the large Sunday crowd of Lajong fans loved it, even needling the Gokulam bench further from the stands immediately behind.
Eight yellow cards were shown to players during the match (2 for the hosts, 6 for the visitors) plus at least one for the Gokulam bench but, incredibly, there were no send-offs.
All this brouhaha did take away from the earlier action, which saw Lajong once again get their noses in front after a beautiful header by Daniel into the goal off Hardy’s corner kick.
However, for the third time in three home matches, Lajong gave up a lead as Perdomo equalised after some fast play up the right flank by Gokulam that SLFC had no way of reacting to.
Just before the break, Gokulam almost bagged the lead but two players stretching for the ball couldn’t quite get enough boot on it.
Although Hardy was named Player of the Match for his one assist and one goal, it was Phrangki Buam who really shone, especially in the second half.
Early on, in the 47th minute, he did a huge amount of hard work to muscle his way into the opposition box and delivered a good cross only to see Karim blast it over the crossbar.
It was he, too, who earned the penalty, cleverly drawing the foul after getting into the penalty zone and Paulino converted by putting it low out of the reach of the goalkeeper, Avilash Paul, who had dived the right way.
There may be repercussions for Gokulam after the game, we’ll have to wait and see. However, it did seem to TSR that, though they were hard done by those two events in the second half, the twice champions also appeared to have come here expecting to be handed victory and they got increasingly annoyed at Lajong’s resistance.
As it happens, Gokulam have now tasted defeat after three wins and a draw and they drop to third in the standings with 10 points, behind Mohammedan Sporting on 13 and Sreenidi Deccan on 10 (the latter have a better goal difference +11 to +8).
Lajong, now one of only two clubs still unbeaten (the other being Mohammedan), have jumped up to sixth place with 6 points.
Coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet will breathe a sigh of relief that the run of draws has ended but there is precious little rest for his boys as they will host Delhi FC on 22nd November at 2:30PM. Lajong and Delhi qualified for this season’s I-League by finishing as the top two in the Second Division League earlier this year.
Shillong Lajong’s squad today:
Bishal Lama (GK), Ronney Kharbudon, Kynsailang Khongsit, Daniel Goncalves, Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri, Hardy Cliff Nongbri, Phrangki Buam, Renan Paulino de Souza, Takuto Miki (sub Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait 85′), Abdou Karim Samb, Kynsaibor Lhuid (sub Everbrightson Mylliempdah 76′)