Friday, June 14, 2024

Dogged Lajong hold East Bengal to a draw


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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: In one of their biggest tests of the season thus far, Shillong Lajong FC held East Bengal to a goalless draw in the ninth round of the I-League at the JN Stadium, Polo, on Saturday.

Despite the scoreline, the match held plenty of action for the enthusiastic Shillong crowd, who were vociferous in support of the Reds.

Lajong have now not lost to a Kolkata club in four games at home, having beaten Prayag United, Pailan Arrows and Mohun Bagan in earlier matches.

Both teams in this game had their opportunities to break the deadlock, but they all came to nothing.

After their midweek victory over Pailan, Lajong started strongly against EB, with Sushil Kumar Singh and Friday Gbeneme leading up front.

Sushil was especially energetic in the field, deftly switching from Lajong’s half to all-out attack in opposition territory.

Sushil was in play throughout the match and had a few chances at goal; probably his best was his 89th minute strike. Taken from outside the box, he fired it in hard, but was blocked by opposition goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

East Bengal appreciated the quality of Sushil, keeping him well marked during free kicks. There was a bit of argy-bargy between him and EB defender Arnab Mondal before a free kick in the 52nd minute, but the match was otherwise played in good spirits.

Friday had fewer opportunities, but served the team well. He was often marked by Uga Okpara, whose strength in defence complemented his strong physique.

SLFC’s players demonstrated some quick-thinking during the match, something that the crowd appreciated.

In the 85th minute Friday was passed the ball deep in East Bengal’s half. Surrounded by defenders, he passed it back to Jibon Singh who crossed the ball to Sushil. Although his shot was blocked by the keeper, this was just one instance of the high quality football that Lajong produced.

The visitors, too, had their chances. For them it was Edeh Chidi who was the danger man. The striker was constantly guarded by Lajong defenders, but he was at times able to get away from his minders, though without success.

The Bengal team would have felt they had the best of the first half, but both teams could claim honours in the second.

Lajong threw everything they could at the visiting team in the dying minutes of the match with a determination to wrest a goal from East Bengal.

Boithang Haokip, who had been carrying an injury for some time, was introduced in the 88th minute in place of skipper Renedy Singh, who received thunderous applause from the grateful crowd as he left the field, but the winning goal still could not be found.

While there was much to praise in both sides’ play, the two were also guilty of sloppy football at times.

East Bengal started both halves slowly and conceded three throw-ins through laziness in the first minute of the second half.

For the home team, some of the passing was farcical: a number of passes and headers were made directly by Lajong players to their opponents.

One positive for Lajong is the form of defender Minchol Son. For the second consecutive game he was named Man-of-the-Match and, overall, SLFC should be pleased with their defence, especially how they handled EB’s attacks.

In other matches, Pailan Arrows beat ONGC 4-1, while Dempo saw off Salgaocar 2-1 to claim top spot in the table. SLFC are now in eighth place, but could drop behind Mumbai again, when the latter face Air India on Sunday.

The Reds will now play three away games, their first against United Sikkim on December 8, before coming home to face Pune on December 29.

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