Shillong Lajong held Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 draw in one of the most fiercely contested Hero I-League matches at the JN Stadium in Shillong on Wednesday afternoon.
The Mariners went to the top of the standings, at least for three days, thanks to their upper hand over Aizawl in the head-to-head contest.
Bagan drew first blood in the 75th minute when super-sub Jeje Lalpekhlua found the back of the net with a chip shot. The visitors’ joy was, however, short-lived as barely three minutes later Lajong star striker Dipanda Dicka (78′) converted from the spot to restore parity.
While Bagan moved to top spot with 30 points after the tie, Lajong remain fourth with 24 points.
Earlier, Lajong clearly looked the better side in an exciting first half which saw a couple of chances each go down for both sides. In-form Dipanda Dicka got the crowd into the act as early as the 11th minute creating a buzz in the Bagan defence with a bicycle kick that eventually landed safely on Debjit Mazumdar.
Six minutes later, last Match’s hero Redeem Tlang almost got the breakthrough for his side when he unleashed a left-footed scorcher from close range. Mazumdar could back it only partially as the ball took a deflection and crashed into the far left post.
In the 18th minute, an advancing Dicka guided a firm shot towards the net, however, Mazumdar made a desperate leap to deny the I-League lead scorer.
Bagan regrouped post the half-hour mark with the likes of Sony Norde, Katsumi Yusa, Darryl Duffy and Eduardo Soares in the thick of the action. A 36 minutes Bagan header was denied by a by Vishal Kaith.
Four minutes later, Eduardo’s header of a Sony Norde free kick bounced over the post much to the dismay of coach Sanjoy Sen.
Crossing over Lajong looked to maintain the same intensity and created a few niggles for the Bagan defenders early on.
Finally, the deadlock was broken in the 75th minute by Jeje who was brought in for Balwant Singh. A long ball from the midfield found the Bagan forward upfront and he chipped it over an advancing Vishal Kaith to give his side the crucial lead.
When the entire Bagan camp erupted in joy little did they know that the merriment would be curtailed soon.
Three minutes later, Lajong substitute Fabio Pena’s attempt from inside was clipped by the hand of one of the Bagan defenders. The result was a penalty and Dicka made no mistake to convert it from the spot much to the delight of the over 6000-strong crowd.
The visitors were also a touch unlucky when a Katsumi Yuta scorcher crashed at a grounded Vishal Kaith. An inch on the right or left, and the outcome of the match could have been different.
In the end, it was a well-deserved point earned by both sides least to mention the performances of both the goalkeepers who were at their best all along.