Mohammedan Sporting were held to a 1-1 draw by Shillong Lajong in the latter’s opening fixture of I-League 2023-24 at the Naihati Stadium on Friday, November 3.
Unfazed about playing in front of a partisan crowd, it was Shillong Lajong who created the bulk of the better chances in the first half. The first of those came as early as the third minute, as Brazilian midfielder Renan Paulino lined up a freekick right at the edge of the Mohammedan Sporting box. The free kick hit the wall, but off the ricochet, Paulino let loose a volley that drifted just wide.
The tone was somewhat set for the game, Lajong FC the team who played the ball neatly in the channels, interchanging passes at pace and never allowing Mohammedan Sporting to settle. The home side largely played on the counter and were overly reliant on their Argentine playmaker Alexis Gomez to create anything of note.
Lajong came close in the 10th minute again, Paulino rising highest to a corner at the far post only to see his header bounce off a smartly positioned Padam Chhetri in goal. The chances piled up. In the 25th, Joseph Adjei erred in dealing with a routine cross, and saw the ball drop inside the six-yard box straight to Takuto Miti. Before the Japanese forward could wrap his foot around the ball though, Zodingliana slid in to clear. Miti was at the centre of the action soon after, playing a perfectly weighted ball to put Elhadji Karim Samb through on goal. The Senegalese’s poor touch saw the chance disappear quickly.
Just as it seemed the misses would come to haunt Lajong FC and Mohammedan Sporting started growing in the game, Miti struck, true this time. Allen Camper Lyngdoh’s cross wasn’t dealt with well enough by a Mohammedan defence and Miti latched onto a headed clearance to volley his shot into the bottom right. Lajong had a well-deserved lead.
Mohammedan Sporting came with renewed vigour into the second half and in the 53rd minute had levelled the game. Played through by Gomez, the second half substitute David Lalhlansanga drove into the box, before cutting to his right foot, deceiving two defenders and rifling his shot into the net to spark celebrations in the stands.
Lajong FC had a chance to hit straight back within 10 minutes, Paulino launching a brilliant run and then playing a through ball to Sangti Shianglong in the box. The midfielder shot high.
With fatigue setting in, both sides laboured towards finding an opening and the game hinges on a moment of magic, or madness. Despite Mohammedan Sporting’s extensive pressure it ended up being neither as the teams took a point apiece.