Imphal: Shillong Lajong snapped NEROCA FC's nine-match unbeaten run with a 2-0 win in their I-League match on Tuesday.
Lajong pumped in two quick goals through Saihou Jagne (13th) and Abdoulaye Koffi (18th) and the home side, who were aiming to win this match to top the league table, could not score despite having several chances in the eleven round game.
NEROCA, who were playing in their debut season, dominated the whole of the second half with better ball possession and also created several chances but their forwards were found wanting in front of the goal.
Their defence, which has been rock solid before this match and conceded just six goals in 10 matches, struggled in the first half an hour, helping the Shillong side to take a 2-0 lead before the 20th minute.
NEROCA could not recover from the early jolt and the vocal 15,000-odd crowd that turned up at the Khuman Lampak Stadium returned home disappointed.
Despite Wednesday's loss, their first at home, NEROCA still remain on second spot in the league table with 21 points from 11 points. They can top the table if they beat leaders Minerva Punjab FC (22 points from nine matches) at home on 27 January.
Lajong, on the other hand, jumped two places to fourth with 17 points from 12 matches.
NEROCA started brightly by putting early pressure on their opponents. They had the first chance of the match in the fourth minute when Nedo Turkovic sent Subash Singh on the clear inside the box but the Manipuri player's feeble attempt was saved by Lajong goalkeeper Nidhin Lal.
The home side were dominating play but it was Shillong Lajong that broke the deadlock in the 13th minute. Saihou Jagne controlled a long ball from Rakesh Pradhan before slotting it past a helpless NEROCA goalkeeper Shambhu Mistry to give his side a shocking lead.
The demanding and vocal home crowd was stunned to silence as the visitors struck another blow five minutes later through Koffi. The Ivorian striker jumped higher than Gouramangi Singh to connect a Novin Gurung cross and is header hit the net after hitting the inside of the post with goalkeeper Mistry out of line.
NEROCA head coach Gift Raikhan brought in David Lalbiakzara in place of Ronald Singh in the 28th minute in a bid to find goals. David's entry did infuse some urgency but ultimately a goal eluded the Imphal side.
In their last match against defending champions Aizawl FC on January 20, NEROCA came back from one goal deficit to win 2-1 but today they could not rally from the 0-2 deficit to suffer their second loss in the league so far.
They had lost to Minerva Punjab 1-2 in Ludhiana in their campaign opener on December 1.
In the 50th minute, Nedo Turkovic put the ball into the Lajong net off a free-kick but the goal was disallowed as he was adjudged to have used his arm to guide the ball in.
Turkovic, who scored NEROCA match-winner against Aizawl, was able to get into the box from the right and square it into the path of Felix Chidi but the Nigerian striker's shot in the 73rd minute went wide.
Second-half substitute Sushil Singh, a former India player, had a chance in the 88rd minute but his header after a scramble inside the box flew inches above the crossbar.
Towards the end of the match, there were frayed tempers with players of both sides pushing and shoving each other near the touchline after a Lajong player charged his NEROCA counterpart but the referee did not see it. The referee later handed yellow cards to two NEROCA players.
Shillong Lajong assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew said this win will motivate his players going into the remainder of the league.
"This win will motivate the players because we have not done very well in the league so far. Hopefully, we keep improving and keep winning," he said at the post-match press conference.
"It was a tough match. For most part of the match, NEROCA were all over us.
We defended very well, scored and finished the game. When we played against NEROCA at home, we were controlling the match, but they scored from the chance they got. Today, ball possession was most of the time with Neroca but we created two chances and scored."
NEROCA head coach Gift Raikhan took the blame on himself for today's loss.
"Our strategy was not successful. That is my mistake and I take the blame for the loss. I changed the strategy after conceding two goals and it did not work out. Sometimes teams have off days.
Because of various reasons, we did not play well in the first half but we played well in the second half but could not get the goal," he said.
"We started the match with an attacking intent but unfortunately conceded two goals and we could not recover from there," he rued.
Raikhan, however, said the I-League title was still within the reach of his side.
"I said earlier that this team can be champion. I still say that we can be champion. We will learn from today's defeat. I hope today's defeat will be a stepping stone to winning the title," said the former Pune FC assistant coach.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2018 20:37:40 IST