I League traditionally has been dominated by the team from Goa and Kolkata with the 2011-12 and 2012-13 editions of the top flight having 4 teams each from the two regions. Even the last season had our teams from Goa and thee from Kolkata. One accusation that I League has had to come under in recent times is that it doesn’t have a pan India representation but this teams to be slowly changing with the emergence of Bengaluru FC and the team from North East.
The teams from North East have added a new dimension to the I League and while Shillong Lajong have now established themselves in the I League, their was no second team that was coming up. Both United Sikkim in the 2012/13 season and then Rangdajied United in the 2013/14 season failed to make a mark and were relegated in a season but the performance of Santosh Kashyap mentored Royal Wahingdoh has earned them a lot of praise and the newly promoted side from the second division find themselves at the second spot in the table.
The biggest advantage of the having clubs emerge from the North East is that they attract a lot of people to the ground and their home matches are very well attended. Shillong Lajong had the second best attendance in I League last season, better than the likes of East Bengal, Dempo and eventual champions Bengaluru FC. Even Rangdajied United found themselves fourth in the last of attendance with East Bengal between them and Shillong Lajong. In contrast the average attendance of all the four Goan clubs put together marginally bettered that of Rangdajied United which speaks a lot about the passion in that part of the country. The Shillong Derby (Shillong Lajong vs Rangdajied United) played on November 22, 2013, at the JLN Stadium, drew a total attendance of 22000 (also a full house) a and in the process, the match also registered fifth in the top attendance figures of the I-League matches last season. The Shillong derby in this round attracted 14,000 people to the stadium despite the heavy rains just before the match. The people from the region are passionate about their football and their presence at the stadium adds an extra dimension to their team. Most of the top teams from the nation struggle to play at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium with the crowd egging the home team and acting as the 12th player. With Aizwal FC leading in the second division, another club from the North East will be an icing on the cake and will really provide a boast for the game in the region.
Despite being the inexperienced side among the two, Royal Wahingdoh have taken the league by storm ever since they got promoted. Santosh Kashyap mentored side has displayed an attacking brand of football and have continuously pressurized the opposition teams with their pace & trickery. Wahingdoh have shown an intent to fight whenever they have gone down – coming back from 3-2 down to equalize away from home against Bengaluru and scoring a goal in the Shillong derby in this round. Kashyap has got his tactics spot on with team as he has utilized the pace of Jackichand Singh, Seityasen Singh, Lalmangaihsanga effectively to put the teams under pressure. An important thing that Wahingdoh did right after getting promoted was to retain the core set of players that helped them clinched promotion rather than go for big name players. This was unlike Mohammaden last season who kept changing their team completely following promotion and failed to settle down, leading to their relegation. The likes of Loveday Okechukwu and Bekay Bawar were retained by the club and the duo have put in impressive performances in the top flight as well. The club also struck gold with the signings of Denzil Theobald and North Korean striker Kim. The duo may not be the most high profile foreign players in the league but have put in top performances for the club. While Theobald has anchored the midfield well, Kim has scored four goals so far which includes the equalizer against Lajong in this round.
Shillong Lajong have made so sort of recovery after having lost five of their last six matches. The return of MinChol Son to the team has added much needed solidity to the defense which had been leaking goals at the start of the season. Playing with most of their academy players, Lajong have done relatively well and the experience of the young players augurs well for their future. Cornell Glen has been a force to reckon upfront scoring nine goals in twelve games this season while Boithang Haokip and Penn Orji have led a young midfield boasting of mostly academy players.
On the field it was Lajong who looked promising right from the start and the Reds had an opportunity in the first minute itself when Son’ s header form a corner rattled the crossbar. A bicycle kick from Nim Dorjee Tamang gave Lajong in the 36th minute after Wahingdoh failed to clear a set piece taken by Uilliams. North Korean striker Kim, who was left on the bench by Santosh Kashyap and his inclusion added impetus to Wahingdoh’ s attacks. The second half was most played in Lajong’ s half as they preferred to defend their one goal lead. The sending off of Len Doungel gave advantage to Wahingdoh and they were rewarded for their efforts in the dying moments of the match as Kim headed home a cross from Naoba Singh to restore parity in the Shillong derby. With the draw, Wahingdoh moved a spot up to the second place behind leaders Mohun Bagan while Lajong dropped down to ninth spot.
Other I League Matches
A brace from Sony Norde took Mohun Bagan closer to the I League crown as they went past Bharat FC 2-0 at the Barast stadium. The match began as a cagey affair with the first real chance of the match falling to Balwant Singh at the 40th minute mark but an alert Arindam Bhattacharya was upto the task. Haitian international Sony Norde broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute as he latched on to a long ball by Sehnaj Singh and then beat both Gouramangi Singh and Wadoo to score past Arindam. The match was put beyond doubt seven minutes later as Norde latched on to a cross from Balwant Singh to score his second of the match. Referring came under the scanner once again with Bagan being denied two potential penalties on either side of the half time.
Dempo returned to winning ways at the Cooperage stadium courtesy a 1-0 win over hosts Mumbai FC. A controversial penalty awarded to Dempo in the 92nd minute was converted by Carlos Hernandes to secure a much needed win for the Golden Eagles. Dempo began on the offensive with Lenny Rodrigues, Hernandes and Amiri troubling Mumbai FC defense but were unable to make their possession count. Mumbai FC showed more urgency in the second half but the match was largely restricted to the midfield and was settled by the debatable penalty late in the game. With the win Dempo leapfrogged Mumbai FC and are now placed at the seventh spot with Mumbai a spot below them.
East Bengal handed Pune FC their first home defeat of the season in an entertaining encounter which the Lal-Hould brigade won 3-2. East Bengal were the dominant side on the night and had it not been for sloppy blunders by Abhijit Mondal, the Kolkata side would have won with a clean sheet. It was the league’ s top scorer Ranti Martins who opened the scoring on the night with a goal in the 19th minute. It was a cross from the left by Leo Bertos that was volleyed in cleanly by Ranti. Mathew Gonsalves levelled the encounter with Mondal being guilty. East Bengal duo of Ranti Martins and Dudu Omagbemi were continuously troubling the host and the Lal-Hould brigade surged ahead in the 48th minute with skipper Harmanjot Khabra restoring the lead in the 48th minute and Dudu made it 3-1 seven minutes later. Abhijit Mondal gifted a goal to Darko Nikac in the 65th minute but East Bengal hung to notch up a well deserved win and move within a point of Red Lizards.