By Our Reporter
SHILLONG: In the first I-League match under floodlights at the JN Stadium, Polo, home team Shillong Lajong FC fought hard against ONGC but could not deliver a much-desired victory for the thousands of fans who turned out to support them here on Sunday evening.
Lajong took the lead in the 17th minute through Sushil Kumar Singh, but ONGC responded in the second half with a goal from David Lalrinmuana.
SLFC now have 22 points from 23 matches and stay in 11th place, far from safe of the relegation zone.
Coming into this match on the back of two morale-boosting draws away, SLFC were the more dominant team throughout, but were harried by a strong defence.
They broke through the defence in the 17th minute after some deft passing by their players up at front.
Sushil was alive to the possibility and, after receiving a pass on the right flank, he ran past the defenders and struck a careful right-footer that beat the goalkeeper Rehenesh. The ball clipped the far upright, but sneaked behind the line to the raucous cheers of the crowd.
The turnout was perhaps the largest this season, but a stray incident almost spoiled the match.
In the 24th minute a ball came out of the crowd onto the field and ONGC’s keeper moved forward to kick it away. The referee did not stop play, however, and Rehenesh had to rush back to prevent Lajong from scoring as they attacked.
The ball went out for a corner and the keeper did well to gather a sharp header from Edinho Junior.
Edinho had scored twice in his first match for the club in Pune last month and the buzz surrounding him has only grown since.
Although frequently in play, he was stifled effect-ively by ONGC, who always had two players marking him, one of whom was Robin Gurung, the eventual Man-of-the-Match.
The Portuguese striker had a couple of strong headers and even a strike in the 10th minute that went over the bar, but could not find the back of the net.
The ball hovered around the midfield for much of the first half, with Shillong Lajong finding it difficult to get the ball forward. They did have most of the possession and ONGC were forced to play a chasing game, although they were never really outplayed.
Changing ends the Oilmen had a good attempt on goal in the 55th minute when Eric Brown fired in a shot straight to Lajong’s custodian Lalthuammawia Ralte, who collected the ball on his second attempt.
After this, Lajong upped the ante and pushed forward several times but without success.
ONGC’s equaliser then came out of the blue in the 65th minute.
After a skirmish just inside the Lajong box, the ball was headed out straight to Lalrinmuana. Unmarked, he set himself up and hammered a well aimed shot to the right of the diving Ralte, leaving the home fans stunned.
SLFC lifted their game and attacked with renewed vigour, but there was an unscheduled break in the proceedings when one of the newly-installed towers abruptly went dark. The match was halted for around five minutes before back-up lights kicked in and play resumed.
There were a couple of good opportunities that Lajong created for them-selves later on, with Edinho missing with a right-footer after receiving a delightful pass from substitute Taisuke Matsugae in the 85th minute.
Two minutes later Boithang Haokip took a powerful shot from 15 yards outside the box. A beautiful strike, the ball struck the crossbar to deny the lead to the home team.
“Overall, this is a disappointment for us,” coach Thangboi Singto said after the match. “Credit must go to ONGC as they came back strongly. Football is about taking chances and we didn’t do that today.”
Singto chose not to comment on the officiating when asked whether he thought the referee had been harsh on his boys. Edinho, in particular, appeared to feel aggrieved for constantly being called for fouls when tussling with his markers.
Asked whether the Portuguese could have benefitted from having another striker up at front as he was never without at least two markers, Singto said, “We had to bring one striker to defend because ONGC were kicking the ball forward.”
He did note ONGC’s strategy to tackle the threat of Edinho, however, and said that Lajong will have to adapt their tactics.
Singto also said that he was sorry that the fans were denied a victory and hopes to make that up to them in Lajong’s final home match this season next week against Mumbai FC.
In other matches, Mohun Bagan moved up to 13th place in the table after a convincing 5-1 win away at Sporting Clube de Goa.
Odafa Okolie scored a hat-trick, while Tolgay Ozbey bagged a brace.
Air India remain behind Lajong after losing to Mumbai FC 3-1 in Pune.