In what was a mouth-watering 4th round I-league clash between Shillong Lajong FC and Prayag United, which was played at the J N Stadium in Shillong, the home team produced a spirited fightback to edged out the big spending Prayag side by a narrow 3-2 margin.
Coming off an unbeatable streak, Prayag made early inroads into the Lajong defence ,when in form striker Ranti Martins scored off a beautiful header in the 4th minute to stun the boisterous home crowd, some of who were just settling in their seats. The early goal however seemed to bolstered the Reds into a different gear as they started creating more chances inside the Prayag box. 16 anxious minutes later, a scintillating through ball by Sushil Kumar saw Friday Gbeneme one on one with the Prayag custodian, and goalkeeping wizard Subrata Pal; The Lajong striker kept his calm to coolly lobbed the ball over Subrata and into the back of the net. Up in arms went the crowd as the match went back on an even poise and edge.
As the first half wore on , it seemed that either side would be capable of taking the lead. The lead came for the visiting side when a defensive howler by Wailadmi Passah ,who saw his tackle resulted in a handball inside the Lajong box. Ranti Martins then converted from the ensuing spot kick to add to his ever growing tally of League goals. The Reds, who yet again conceded from a set piece, calmly gathered themselves and like the proverbial “Calm before the Storm” , started to slowly but surely began constructing an outstanding and inspired comeback , to ensure that the Lajong Faithfuls would not go home disappointed.
The man with the magical touch, Friday Gbeneme lit the flame of resurgence, when he drew the teams level just before half-time with a 43rd minute penalty, which resulted due to a foul inside the Prayag box. The goal was just the spark that the Reds needed as they headed into the dressing room, with a belief that they could take home all the three points. The visiting side though, had an equally good chance of upsetting the home team and the home crowd, as both teams went into the break.
The home team then started the second half from where they had left off in the first ,as Coach Bulpin brought in Subhash Singh for youngster Samuel Shadap during the break. The Reds started to play with more confidence, and started creating more chances. Possession wise however, both teams had an equal share of the spoils. The game ebbed on, as a draw seemed the most likely result. But the home side made a telling substitution in the form of Boithang Haokip, who came on for warhorse Rennedy Singh. Haokip made an immediate impact ,yet again, when he scored the would be winner in the 68th minute, to send the J N Stadium into wild ruptures of celebrations. Reminiscent of the title-winning thunderous volley against Wellington Phoenix ,the lad from Manipur lined up his shot in perfect harmony to drill the ball past a hapless Subrata Pal. The turnaround was now complete-the comeback set in place, as the Reds , driven on by the now singing thousands, launched wave after wave of attack in search of the 2 goal cushion. The visiting side however , did not cave in meekly. Rather they countered every attack of the Reds in equal fashion, with Ranti Martins coming real close on one occasion, but was denied by a superb save by the Lajong keeper, Lalthuamawia Ralte.
That was pretty much the last piece of action, as the referee brought down the curtains on the eventful and fast paced encounter. For the Reds, the match would go down in history as one of the most closely fought wins , as they came back from 1 goal behind ,twice in the match to round off an epic fightback.
Coach Desmond Bulpin commended the amazing fighting spirit of the team and rated the stupendous win as one of his best wins in the League ,while at the same time acknowledging that Prayag were indeed a worthy and a strong opponent , which resulted in a good game of football being displayed. His counterpart, Sanjoy Sen also lauded the Shillong side and said that they were one of the few I-League teams who would prove difficult to be beaten at home. Sen summed it all up when he signed off by quoting “The Best Team Won Today”.