Lajong pip Pune City FC to march into Hero Super Cup Quarterfinals
Shillong Lajong redeemed their blow hot, blow cold season with a remarkable victory over Pune City FC in a five-goal thriller in the sixth Round of 16 match of the ongoing Hero Super Cup football tournament.
The young team from the hills of Meghalaya, showed remarkable composure and tactical finesses to come back from two goals down to triumph against Pune City FC, who had a great Hero Indian Super League Season (Hero ISL), placing fourth and reaching the playoffs for the first time. Shillong who finished sixth in the Hero I-League, now move on to play Kolkata giants and fellow I-Leaguers Mohun Bagan in the quarters.
At the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Pune’s Austrian coach Ranko Popovic lined the Stallions in a 4-5-1 formation with Brazilian talisman Marcelinho as the target man up front. Shillong gaffer Alison Kharsyntiew went for a 4-4-2 with Hero I-League Emerging Player of the Year and captain Samuela playing behind Ivorian sniper Abdoulaye Koffi.
The match started under heavy underfoot conditions and rain persisted throughout the duration of the match. The game got its first goal in the 17th minute of the first half itself when Shillong’s South Korean defender Juho Oh fouled Marcelinho outside the Shillong box. In the resultant Pune free kick, Italian Jonathan Lucca curled a wonderful right-footer into the Shillong goal, beating custodian Nidhin Lal all ends up.
Five minutes later, fellow Brazilian midfielder Diego, snatched a ball away from Shillong’s Novin Gurung inside his own half and unleashed a solo run to find Marcelinho in space outside the Shillong box. The Brazilian took one touch to position the ball and then curled a left-footer to bring up a classy finish.
Pune was up 2-0 and looking to run away with the game when in the 29th minute, Nigerian Odafin snatched a ball outside the Pune box and drilled a pass onto the path of Koffi. The Ivorian slotted home calmly past Pune keeper Vishal Kaith to bring Shillong back into the game as the half ended 2-1 despite some more enterprise displayed by Pune, mainly led by Marcelinho.
The second half began almost on identical lines of the first, with Pune beginning stronger and the first 15 mins producing two clear scoring chances for Diego and one for Manuel ‘Lolo’ Toribio for the Stallions. Two great saves from Nidhin Lal, however, kept Shillong in the game and this was going to be crucial at the end.
In the 61’ minute, Shillong equalised, quite against the run of play. The goal had two Shillong defenders involved in it. Novin forwarded a ball ahead which was collected in the middle of the Pune half by Sheen, both of whom who had a great game for Shillong on the day.
Sheen on the turn pushed ahead and found an overlapping Rakesh Pradhan with a through pass on the right of the Pune box. The young left back trapped and placed it calmly beyond Vishal Kaith onto the left corner- a clinical finish which would have done any striker proud.
The goal energised Shillong Lajong and they continued to pepper the Pune defence with runs down the middle by Samuela, Sheen and Redeem Talang, often finding Koffi and Rakesh Pradhan, who was brilliant with his overlaps throughout, in inviting spaces.
Popovic ringed in the changes bringing in Rohit Kumar for Isaac in the 66th minute and then Chesterpoul Lyngdoh for Ashique in the 74th. However, Pune’s frustration was beginning to show as Shillong was blocking everything to throw at them.
Then in the 90th minute, Samuela found Koffi inside the Pune box with a delectable chip and an onrushing Vishal Kaith made contact with Koffi to bring him down and referee Ramaswamy pointed to the spot. The captain drilled in a right-footer past Vishal to close out a remarkable victory.