SHILLONG: Little-known Issac Vanmalsawma Chhakchhuak turned out to be the hero of the day as hosts Shillong Lajong FC beat Kingfisher East Bengal on Sunday evening to not only avoid relegation but catapult their position to sixth in the standings of the Hero I-League.
The Reds had everything at stake coming into this make or break tie and not only did they bend their backs but ensured that they give the 8000-odd crowd a lot to cheer about by evading a drop into the second tier of Indian football.
The result, however, meant that fellow Northeasterners Aizawl FC will not feature in the next edition of Hero I-League.
It was a disappointing start for Trevor Morgan who would have to wait till the Federation Cup to find a win with the Red & Golds on his second spell. East Bengal finished third with 25 points while Lajong have amassed 18 points to finish sixth.
Issac struck gold a minute after the hour mark to send the crowd into raptures. Eventually, it was an “all’s well that ends well” kind of scenario for the hosts who breathed a sigh of relief as the referee blew the long whistle.
Lajong had to garner at least one point to ensure that they survive to fight another season and they did that in style by adding three points to their tally.
The jubilation and relief was visible on the face of Lajong coach Thangboi Singto as the players got the vociferous crowd into the act towards the fag end of the tie. Indeed, the entire JN Stadium was relieved to see the Reds making the cut.
Earlier, Lajong started on a visibly determined note dominating the early exchanges. Fabio Pena was in the thick of action lurking dangerously in the East Bengal box. The first real chance of the match came in the 10th minute when Fabio picked a long ball on the left only to smash it wide of the far post.
Penn Orji, meanwhile, was at his sublime best in the midfield, building things up for the Reds.
Kingfisher East Bengal threatened to go into the lead at the stroke of half hour but a Ranti Martins header from a good position went wide of the target. The Red & Golds custodian and a former Lajong man Rehenesh TP, meanwhile, was on his toes throughout, thwarting many a Lajong advance especially initiated by Fabio and Uilliams Silva.
Crossing over Fabio had his first good look at the goal in the 56 min when a decent diving save by Rehenesh denied the Brazilian another opportunity.
However, barely five minutes later danger came from the most unexpected corner for the visitors. Midfielder Issac Vanmalsawma took an aim at the nets after receiving the ball from Fabio. A deflection of Arnab Mondal beat Rehenesh to send the Lajong players, coach, support staff and of course crowd into raptures.
The Reds thereafter did well to squeeze top scorer Ranti Martins denying him free movement as the cheers grew louder with the passage of every minute. A well-marked Ranti could do nothing to convert of a Sanju cross in the 82nd minute.
Lajong, meanwhile, were denied again in the 87th minute by Rehenesh’s excellence in front of the crossbar.
The last real chance for the visitors came in the stoppage time when a shot by Sanju Pradhan from a difficult angle on the right was grabbed by Kunzang Bhutia, playing his first game of the season.
– I-League Media