Shillong Lajong FC secured their place in next season’s I-League after beating FC Bengaluru United 2-1 in the All India Football Federation’s Second Division League at First Ground here today in front of more than 5,000 adoring fans.
Victory plus a 4-3 defeat for Ambernath United against United SC in Kolkata gives Lajong 7 points, which guarantees them a place in the top two of the five-team round robin final round once the action finishes this coming Friday.
Today, Everbrightson Mylliempdah put SLFC into the lead in the 43rd minute before Kongbrailatpam Manjit Sharma equalised for Bengaluru United in the 51st. Figo Syndai’s header in the 82nd minute then gave Lajong the win.
This was Lajong’s last match of the final round and they had to win it (a draw would have kept them in the hunt but left them in a precarious position). To do so, they were forced to bounce back from a huge defeat to Ambernath on the road five days ago.
Only the top two clubs from the final round will be promoted to next season’s I-League and the fight remains between Ambernath and Delhi FC (who were not involved today). A draw would be enough for Ambernath to progress, while Delhi will need to win. Whatever the result, Lajong will drop to second place, so they will not be champions of the Second Division League but that will hardly bother them at all as the big prize – promotion – has been secured.
Today coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet made four changes to his starting line-up, bringing in Syndai, Rajat Paul Lyngdoh in goal, Iohborlang Lyngdoh Lyngkhoi and Hamedamanbha Wahlang in place of Bishal Lama, Sambor Kharsahnoh, Babysunday Marngar and Atlanson Kharmaw. Doing this meant that he had a three-person back line, an attacking but risky strategy.
Mylliempdah’s goal from inside the box was a thing of beauty as he kept control of the ball despite being well marked. He pretended to look for a team mate to pass to before turning and scooping the ball up and over the goalkeeper.
Two chances presented themselves to the hosts in under two minutes of the second half but both were wasted. Bengaluru then made them pay by getting the equaliser via Manish with a strong header on target.
Later on, the visitors had a huge shout for handball in the box against Henry Ford Nongneng but the referee dismissed the fervent appeals. In the 68th minute Syndai headed a cross wide but he would make no mistake 14 minutes later.
It was team mate Wadajied Kynsai Ryngkhlem who actually should have scored as he had made a perfect run but took one too many touches and the moment seemed over. However, FCBU failed to clear the ball and Lajong were able to continue to attack and Syndai eventually flicked a header into the net from a Sangti Janai Shianglong cross.
The last few moments were tense. Lajong tried to run the clock down as much as possible but Bengaluru still had a couple of excellent chances that the home team were just about able to scuttle.
Lajong’s journey in the Second Division League has been a long one. They had to play in the Qualifiers first as Meghalaya didn’t hold its state league last year. The Reds came through that comfortably enough but, in the group stage, they were only second best in Group B. However, they happened to be the best second-placed club across the four groups and they thus earned a place in the final round where they have won two games (both at home), drew against Delhi and lost to Ambernath (both on the road).
The first club from the North East ever to play in the competition now return to the I-League for the first time since finishing at the bottom in 2018-19. They had made their debut in 2009-10 before being relegated and then returned for eight consecutive seasons starting in 2011-12.
That they were able to qualify again this year with such a young squad is proof of a strong scouting and training set-up; just a handful of players are actually above 21 years old and most of them have come through the Lajong junior sides.
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