Shillong Lajong FC started their Hero I-League campaign with a home win as they defeated their Northeast rivals Aizawl FC 2-1 and kept their undefeated home record intact against the Mizoram side.

Youngster Naorem Mahesh Singh scored a goal in each half for the Reds whereas it was Ghanefo Kromah for the visitors who scored from the penalty spot to get one back in the second half. Naorem Mahesh was awarded hero of the match for his brace.

Lajong went with their club philosophy to promote young talent and handed four youngsters their I-League debuts. Goalkeeper Neithovilie Chalieu, midfielders Phrangki Buam, Lalawmpuia Hnamte and forward Naorem Mahesh Singh were the ones who got their first I-League starts.

The first Northeastern derby of the season started with the hosts having the majority of the ball possession in the initial minutes of the game. But the first chance fell for the visitors as Neitho was brought into action to make the first save of the game. Lajong’s first chance came in the 15th minute when Mahesh was brought down in the left flank and Samuela stepped up to take the free-kick; the in swinging delivery was cleared away by the Aizawl defence.

At the 20th-minute mark, it was debutant Mahesh Naorem who opened the tally for The Reds with a stunning curler from just outside the box. The move started from the back as Aiban provided a quality diagonal ball to Novin, who then chested it down and found Mahesh making the run down the left wing. Mahesh dropped his shoulder, beat one defender and curled it past Aizawl’s goalkeeper who remained a spectator throughout.

The rest of the half did not see much of action apart from a few half chances which weren’t enough to bother both the keepers. It was then right at the end of the half when Laong had two back to back chances, first Phrangi Buam went past two defenders with his pace before seeing his shot saved by the keeper and then Mahesh beat two defenders inside the box with some nimble footwork but failed to find the target.  The first half ended with the hosts leading with a solitary goal.

The Reds started the second half with more energy and was rewarded just a few minutes into the half. Right from the start of the half it was the visitors who were trying to find an equaliser but against the run of play it was left-back Rakesh Pradhan who put a brilliant cross past two defenders to find Mahesh inside the box who then lobbed it above the goalkeeper to double the lead. The clock read 51 minutes and the Reds were leading Aizawl FC by two goals to none.

Aizawl then started to have more possession of the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. But it was the brilliance of defender Aiban and midfielder Lalrohlua who helped Neitho keep his goal intact.  In the 55th minute, Phrangki Buam again took on two defenders and got down inside the box while trying to shoot, but the referee didn’t call it a foul. Samuela then had a chance to shoot from distance, but his shot took a deflection before falling into the goalkeeper’s arms.

Aizawl FC then went on an attacking spree to find a goal back. In the 70th minute, Aizawl’s forward Kromah was brought down inside the box and the visitors were awarded a penalty which Kromah scored past Neitho to get a goal back. Meanwhile, coach Alison made two changes to introduce fresh feet to keep the lead intact.

The brilliance of Aiban Dohling and Neithovilie Chalieu was required to keep Aizawl’s tally to one as they were constantly looking for goals creating plenty of chances from set pieces. Though the visitors kept trying in the remaining minutes of the game but didn’t manage to find the equaliser and the young Reds came out victorious in their first game of the season.

Shillong Lajong will now host East Bengal FC on November 1 at 2 pm at the JN Stadium in Shillong.

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