Pune FC kept their winning run intact registering a 2-0 verdict against Shillong Lajong FC to annex the Under-20 I-League title, the first-ever at any level ever since the club was established in 2007.
Down to 10-men for the last 30 minutes of the game, Pune FC did well to keep their first-half double-strike intact to emerge on top. Victory, thus, was Pune FC’s fourth in four games and sealed the title with a round to go in the on-going Final League in Kalyani, near Kolkata.
Pune FC took their tally to 12 points and remained three clear of second Mumbai FC. In the last round Pune FC play Prayag United SC on Friday.
First half strikes from skipper Suji Kumar (21st minute) and William Lalnenfula (41st minute) were enough as Pune FC took their winning run to eight games in the competition stretching from the Group Stage.
Pune FC began proceedings with some neat work by William down the right flank sending in a cross for Suji Kumar. The Lajong defense was alert though to clear the danger.
Five minutes into the game, and Pune FC had successive chances of taking the lead. Nikhil, with some good work on the right, cut back for William whose powerful try was saved by Lajong ‘keeper. The rebound fell for Suji, but his try went just wide.
The Lajong defense was made to work continuously as Pune FC surged forward. A long free kick into the box caused trouble for the opponents as William’s drop volley went over.
Pune FC’s dominance of the game was evident as they pushed ahead in search for the opener. A long free kick from half line had the Lajong defense coming up with a scrappy clearance. From the resulting corner, William teed up Ranjan, whose ambitious bicycle-kick went over.
Lajong managed to up their game and work Pune FC custodian Amrinder Singh. But the shot from distance was not enough to cause a problem. At the other end, Nikhil earned a free-kick after being brought down, but his shot going over.
As the match progressed the game was getting scrappy. Both teams were unable to get their best on a slightly bumpier and smaller ground.
Moments later, Lalrempuia played a brilliant defense-splitting through ball to send Nikhil in the clear, only for the Lajong ‘keeper to thwart the attempt. At the other end, Lajong managed to put in a dangerous cross from right as they pushed forward. Pune FC defender James Singh was alert, producing an excellent tackle in the box.
A minute later Pune FC took the lead. On a counter, William attacked from the right only to be cut down once inside the penalty box to earn an obvious penalty kick. Lalrempuia stepped up, but kick to his bad luck had the Shillong Lajong ’keeper save the attempt. However, but skipper Suji Kumar was alert and scored off the ensuing rebound.
Pune FC didn’t settle down and continued causing problems for the rival defense. Five minutes after going one-up, Gobin Singh’s dangerous cross from left was just too high on the bounce for William and Suji as the Lajong ‘keeper collected.
Just past the half hour mark, striker Haokip had a good scoring opportunity. He got ball on top of box, turned and shot straight into the ‘keeper.
Meanwhile, Lajong strung an attack up on left after spell of possession. Defender James produced a clearance from the box. Although Lajong had successive corners, their final finishing wasn’t good enough.
William doubled Pune FC’s advantage in the 41st minute. Substitute Deepak Kumar, on for Haokip, laid a good ball for Suji Kumar on the right. Suji sent in a peach cross to William in the box, who met the ball with a header past a bewildered Lajong ’keeper.
As the first half closed in, Pune FC created three chances. First, William got into a brilliant position to shoot from top of box and force a good save from the Lajong ’keeper who tipped over. A minute later, the ‘keeper denied Deepak by intercepting William’s set up after cutting back inside the box. Deep into added time Suji played Lalrempuia only have the latter’s try blocked and the ball roll wide.
Pune FC went into the break with a two-goal cushion.
Pune FC began the second period with a good spell of possession. Nikhil’s attempt from top of box had the ‘keeper produce a diving save.
Ten minutes into the half, Pune FC survived a closed call. Lajong curled in a free kick and a striker headed towards the goal. Defender Rintea came up a timely header that ricocheted off the post and over. This was the only time that Pune FC seemed to be beaten all ends up.
Couple of minutes later, Lajong defense cleared attempts from Nikhil, William and a header off a corner to keep the scoreline down.
Just past the hour mark, defender Rintea was booked for getting into a scuffle after he clattered into a Lajong FC striker and the latter squared up for face off. Two minutes later Rintea received his marching orders after picking up his second booking for elbowing the Lajong striker. Subsequent pressure on the referee by Lajong players resulted in the second booking to Rintea.
Pune FC, down to 10 men, had to play almost half an hour more. As a result, Pune FC brought a defender Kamardeep Singh in place of Nikhil to hold on to the lead.
Lajong used their man advantage to have more of the ball. Although having more possession after the sending off, Lajong was unable to open their account, thanks to some excellent defending by Pune FC.
Into the final ten minutes of the game, Pune FC went on a counter attack. William charged into box, but was brought down and earned a free kick. Lalrempuia’s shot going inches wide.
The Pune FC defense produced an excellent game to keep out the opponents who were trying hard to get a goal in the closing moments of the game. Into added time, ’keeper Amrinder charged out to collect a ball behind the defense, hurting himself in the process. However, that was temporary as he picked himself up to finish off the rest of the period.