Shillong Lajong returned to the I-League after four years
NEW DELHI, May 22 (IANS) Shillong Lajong FC has been confirmed as the first team to win promotion to the 2023-24 I-League from the ongoing I-League season.
Meghalaya beat FC Bengaluru United 2-1 at SSA Stadium in Shillong on Sunday to take their final round tally to seven points from four matches.
Shillong Lajong returned to the I-League after a four-year break. They were relegated after finishing at the bottom of the table in the 2018-2019 season. Their journey into Division Two began this season early in the qualifying round in February, as they beat Downtown Heroes, Corbett and United Chirang Duar to advance to the group stage. Lajong finished second in the group, and qualified for the final round as best runner-up in all groups, along with United SC, East Bengal Reserves and Diamond Rock.
A heavy 1-5 defeat at the hands of Ambernath United Atlanta five days ago meant Shillong Lajong was a do-or-die situation for Shillong Lajong against Bengaluru United on Sunday. Spurred on by a solid home crowd, Everbrighton’s fine curling volley from Melimba gave them the lead just before half-time, but Kongprailatpam Manjit Sharma equalized for the visitors just after the restart.
However, eight minutes before the end, Vigo Sendai restored the lead for Bobby Nongpet’s side, which they held until the final whistle. As a result of Ambernath’s 3-4 defeat by United SC at Kalyani at the start of the match, Shillong Lajong’s place in the top two and in the I-League for the next season was confirmed before the end of the match.
Shillong Lajong were the North East torchbearers in the I-League, and became the first team from the region to be promoted to the then I-League in the 2009-10 season. Now, as the Reds celebrate their return, the upcoming I-League season will see up to four teams from North East India, including Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC and TRAU FC.
The Meghalaya club has a history of producing quality players, with the likes of Eugenesson Linguo, Chinglinsana Singh, Bipin Singh, Vishal Keith, Naurim Mahesh Singh and Siminlin Dongle all making their debuts for the Blue Tigers after plying their trade at Lajong.
Lajong’s current squad also includes several players from the Meghalaya side who made history by reaching the final of the Santosh Cup in Riyadh earlier this year. Other than Sunday’s top scorers Everbrightson Mellimba and Figo Sendai, Rajat Paul Lingoh, Ronald Kidon Lingoh and Henryford Nongning have also been a part of Meghalaya’s fantasy career.
As in the Champions League 2nd Division, Bengaluru United and United are out of contention for the first and second places. Delhi FC’s clash with Ambernath United Atlanta on Friday will be crucial in deciding which second team gets promoted to League One next season. While for Ambernath, a draw would be enough, but only a win would do for Delhi. Both sides are chasing their first-ever promotion to the I-League.