I-League: Shillong Lajong stuns defending champion Minerva Punjab

Naorem Mahesh Singh scored a 84th-minute winner to help Shillong Lajong record its second win of the season.

Shillong Lajong players celebrate the winning goal against Minerva Punjab FC.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Defending champion Minerva Punjab FC was stunned by a young Shillong Lajong on Friday at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Panchkula. This is bottom-placed Shillong's second win of the season.

Substitute Naorem Mahesh Singh scored the winning goal for Lajong in the 84th minute. This is the eighth consecutive game for the defending champion which hasn't won this season. Lajong goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa was adjudged the Hero of the Match.

Minerva, winless in seven matches, was desperate for three points. No wonder, it came out with an attacking intent, pressing and harrying the young Shillong Lajong FC side.

The host wasn't at its clinical best and hence couldn't finish off presentable opportunities. Minerva, however, managed to break into the opposition box a few times, but couldn’t really make the most of its opportunities.

Shillong got very close to taking the lead when an attempt from Khongsit from inside the box was beautifully defended in the 31st minute. This was the closest chance for the visitor, which couldn’t really create any other clear-cut chance to score. Both the sides couldn't break the deadlock at half-time.

The second half began with defending champion Minerva pressing hard from the first minute, but full credit to Lajong’s goalkeeper Lachenpa and its defense for not providing any clear opportunity to the hosts. Lajong, on the other hand, made some organized efforts in its attacks and looked promising as well. However, lack of creativity in the final third eluded it from taking the lead.

In the 56th minute, Shillong brought in Naorem Mahesh Singh, replacing Samuel Lalmuanpuia and that brought around a sea change to the visitors' attacking style. Mahesh in combination with Khongsit made continuous attempts, finding ways into the Minerva box, but its poor finishing denied it from taking the lead.

Shillong really came close again in the 75th minute, when Kitboklang Pale made a brilliant run from the center circle to play a beautiful pass to Khongsit inside the Minerva box, but to Shillong’s disappointment, the latter could not control his shot and direct the ball on target.

Minerva, which was attacking at short intervals, saw most of its attempts nullified by Shillong defenders. Shillong’s attacking game, which was causing problems for the Minerva defence, finally yielded the desired result in the 84th minute, when an attentive Naorem Mahesh Singh finally found the back of the net, scoring on a rebound from Minerva goalkeeper Nidhin Lal. The rebound was the result of a shot from Sheen that Nidhin saved but failed to collect safely.

Shillong attempted to double its lead in the 88th minute, when Pale’s attempt was beautifully saved by Nidhin Lal. The game, thereafter, saw the host trying for an equaliser, but the young Shillong defenders held on for three points.