United Sikkim and Shillong Lajong were unable to create enough opportunities in front of goal and eventually shared the spoils.
The I-League’s first North-East derby turned out to be a drab affair as United Sikkim and Shillong Lajong were unable to breach each other’s defences and had to settle for a 0-0 draw at the Palijor Stadium.
United Sikkim’s player/manager, Baichung Bhutia was not present for the clash as he was tending to his family after his father recently passed away.
The first half did not offer much in an attacking sense as both sides struggled to get their passing together which resulted in a fractious opening 45 minutes. Shillong Lajong repeatedly attempted to find the strike duo of Gbeneme Friday and Sushil Singh with long balls but with little success. The crossing in particular was poor from both sides.
The two sets of fans had to wait until the 20th minute to witness the first opportunity. A long ball was played up to Friday who controlled it and struck it on the bounce but his left-footed effort was blazed well over the bar.
At the other end, D.G. Attivi decided to test Ralte from range in the 28th minute but the visiting keeper was able to get behind the shot and collected it on the second attempt.
In the 36th minute, United Sikkim captain Michael Rodriguez floated in a free-kick from over 40 yards out which Sandesh Jhingan attacked at the far post but the Lajong defender managed to get a touch on it and the ball bounced over the cross bar.
The resulting corner was taken by Rodriguez and Sandesh was the man attacking the delivery again. The defender’s well directed header produced a spectacular save from Ralte who dived to his right and tipped the ball over the bar.
Rodriguez’s delivery was clearly causing problems for the Lajong defence and he was at it again from a free kick two minutes later. Attivi was the man who went up for the header and the ball eventually fell for Nadong Bhutia from six yards out. His tame effort was cleared off the line but the whistle had already gone for a foul by Attivi.
The second half proved to be a mirror image of the first. Chances were hard to come by and half time substitute Lineker Machado finally instigated a piece of action in the 57th minute. The winger drilled in a cross along the surface from the left hand side which Attivi met but his effort was defected behind goal.
From the resulting corner, Nurudeen Salau headed the ball back across from beyond the far post but the ball just managed to evade Sandesh who continued to be a threat from set-pieces.
The hosts looked most threatening from set-pieces and it was a free-kick from the right hand side that produced the best chance of the game in the 65th minute. Rodriguez’s delivery was found Salau at the back post who had peeled away from his marker. Unfortunately, his downward header bounced off the artificial surface and over the bar.
Neither side were able to fashion any clear-cut opportunities towards the end of the game. United Sikkim continued to look like the more likely of the two to grab a goal but it was not to be.
The result sees United Sikkim leapfrog Air India into 11th place as they slowly edge away from the drop zone although the Airmen have two games in hand. Meanwhile, Shillong Lajong’s point sees them go level on points with Mohun Bagan in 9th place.
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