Reds outclass Mariners in I-league opener

Hoakip, Hmar strike in win over Mohun Bagan

By Nabarun Goswami

 SHILLONG: A resurgent Shillong Lajong outclassed fancied Kolkata rival Mohun Bagan in the lung opener of the sixth edition of the I-League at the JN Stadium here on Saturday.

Powered by two second half goals by Boithang Hoakip (63rd) and Lalramluaha Hmar (injury time), the Reds registered a famous victory against one of the oldest football clubs in India as the 14000 strong crowd roared to announce the thumping win.

Tagged as favourites, the fighting Mariners were taken aback by better coordination on part of the hosts. With an improved striking pair and a visibly improved defense line, SLFC looked a completely different side from the one that finished 10th in the I-League last year.

Main defender Wailadmi Passah was at his best while new signing North Korean defender Minchol Son made a mark with an impressive performance in his very first game for SLFC. The duo kept the famed Bagan strikers, Odafa Okiolie and Tolgay Ozbey, in check thus denying them any real chance throughout the 90-minute encounter.

The last time these two teams faced each other, Bagan had drubbed the premier club of the northeast 6-0. This meant that the Reds had an uphill task going into the match and to the delight of the local fans, who had been disappointed on several occasions in the last season, Lajong made a promising start this time round.

“The voice of the crowd said it all. It was a fantastic performance by the boys and I am proud of them”, said an elated Lajong coach Desmond Bulpin. The Scotsman also praised Mohun Bagan for putting up a good show.

Earlier, Lajong dominated ball possession in a first half which did not see many chances being created. The first real chance of the match came in the 36th minute when Lajong striker Friday Gbeneme took a shot from 20 yards to hit it wide of the bar. However, the hosts gained momentum thereafter to create two quick chances, first when an Eugeneson Lyngdoh cross was almost converted by striker Sushil Singh whose header went over the bar, missing the nets by a whisker. Three minutes later an Ebi Sukore header went slightly wide of the nets.

Crossing over, Bagan almost took the lead within the first 30 seconds when star striker Tolgay hit one a few inches over the bar. At a time when Odafa and Tolgay started to look dangerous, the Lajong defenders stepped up their game to thwart the Mariners’ move. It took a brilliant save from Lajong custodian Ralte to deny an advancing Odafa who had created the best chance of the match for Bagan following a through pass from Tolgay.

The Reds, however, quickly regained momentum and the crowd erupted with joy after in-form Friday netted one in the 61st minute only to be denied due to offside. A minute later, the Bagan custodian stretched to save a Sukore header. However, Boithang Haokip who replaced Eugeneson Lyngdoh in the second half, made a hapless spectator out of the rival goalkeeper as he latched on to a rebound to blaze the ball in as the hosts went into the lead in the 63rd minute.

Lajong, meanwhile, made two more changes with skipper Rennedy Singh coming off for Samuel Shadap and PC Lalhimthara replacing Sushil Singh as the Mariners raised the tempo in search of an equalizer. Cyprian Stanley, who replaced Tolagay, almost eqaulised for Bagan in the 88th minute following a rare sloppy display by Lajong. A couple more chances went begging for Mohun Bagan as the match headed for injury time. However, it was Hmar who sealed the victory for the Reds striking in the dying moments of the tie to lead his side to a memorable win. Lajong’s goalie L Ralte was declared the man of the match.

“Lajong are deserved winners of the day”, Bagan coach Santosh Kashyap said adding that his side missed too many chances.

With this victory SLFC has three pints from one match and will take on Salgaocar in their next encounter here on October 12.

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