By Our Reporter
SHILLONG: Home favourites Shillong Lajong emerged victorious in the North East Lajong Super Series after defeating Australia A League team Wellington Phoenix 3-2 in the final, played at JN Stadium here on Saturday.
It was a clinical performance from the SLFC players that guided the team to win its first major title since they qualified for the I-League in 2009-2010.
Coming into the match as underdogs, the home team did look shaky at the start when they conceded six free kicks in as many minutes.
The visiting team took advantage of the last one and went into the lead after its star striker Jeremy Brockie put the ball into the net following a well-crafted free kick by Alex Smith.
After conceding this early goal, the home team was pushed on the back foot, allowing Wellington Phoenix to dictate the pace.
During the period when the visiting team enjoyed maximum ball possession, the home team managed to equalise in the 22nd minute due to the sheer brilliance of Nigerian striker Friday Gbeneme, who capitalised after Wellington made a terrible back pass towards the goalkeeper.
After this goal, Lajong started to push the ball forward more frequently, which allowed both Friday and Sushil Kumar Singh to keep the visiting team busy.
The home team nearly went into the lead after local lad Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s shot hit the bar after making a great run into the box.
SLFC finally went into the lead in the 32nd minute after young defender Samuel Shadap made a great through pass towards Friday up front. The star striker then turned to score and brought the fans alive.
With the scoreline reading 2-1 in Shillong’s favour at half-time, Wellington were determined to come back into the match in the second half.
It was due to some brilliant defending on the part of the Lajong defenders that prevented Wellington from pulling a goal back.
It wasn’t until the 63rd minute, after the visiting team were awarded a free-kick following a handball against the SLFC defender Govin Singh, that Paul Ifill made no mistake from the box to level the match at two goals apiece.
The Lajong players looked a little down following this goal, and the visiting team continued to penetrate the Reds’ defence, but failed to capitalise.
It was in the closing stages of the match that long balls from the back saw Sushil Kumar Singh run into the Wellington box.
Sushil, while struggling for the ball with the visitors’ defenders, headed the ball towards Boithang Hoakip, who scored with a powerful left-footer from 30 yards away, giving his team a 3-2 lead.
After conceding this goal, Wellington Phoenix players worked hard to come back once again, throwing everything they had in attack, but it was ultimately in vain.
During the post-match press conference, SLFC coach Desmond Bulpin said that it was very satisfying to see his team defeat a formidable side.
“I congratulate the boys for their performance. I also hope this victory will boost the morale of this team ahead of the Federation Cup and I-League,” Bulpin said.
Meanwhile, Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said that the home team deserved this win as they had played brilliantly in this final.
“I am happy we finally get to play a tough game in this tour to India,” Herbert added.
For his tally of seven goals in the tournament, Friday was named Man-of-the-Series.