AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Shillong Lajong FC have been confirmed as the first team to win promotion to the 2023-24 Hero I-League from the ongoing Hero 2nd Division League season. The Meghalaya side edged FC Bengaluru United 2-1 at the SSA Stadium in Shillong on Sunday, May 21, 2023, to take their Final Round tally to seven points from four games.
Shillong Lajong are back in the Hero I-League after a gap of four years. They were relegated after finishing at the bottom of the table in the 2018-19 season. Their journey in this season's Hero 2nd Division began as early as the qualifying round in February, where they overcame Downtown Heroes, Corbett and United Chirang Duar to progress to the Group Stage. Pitted alongside United SC, East Bengal Reserves and The Diamond Rock FA, Lajong finished second in the group and qualified for the Final Round as the best runners-up across all groups.
A heavy 1-5 thrashing at the hands of Ambernath United Atlanta five days ago meant that it was a do-or-die situation for Shillong Lajong against Bengaluru United on Sunday. Spurred on by a strong home crowd, Everbrightson Mylliempdah's brilliant curling strike gave them the lead just before half-time, but Kongbrailatpam Manjit Sharma equalised for the visitors just after the restart. However, eight minutes from time, Figo Syndai's header regained the lead for Bobby Nongbet's side, which they maintained until the final whistle. As a result of Ambernath's 3-4 defeat to United SC in Kalyani in the concurrent kick-off, Shillong Lajong's place in the top two and in next season's I-League was confirmed with one matchday to go.
Shillong Lajong were the torch-bearers of the northeast in the Hero I-League, becoming the first side from the region to be promoted to the then top division in 2009-10. Now, with the Reds marking their return, the next season's Hero I-League will see as many as four sides from northeast India, including Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC and TRAU FC.
The Meghalaya club have a history of producing top-quality players, with the likes of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Chinglensana Singh, Bipin Singh, Vishal Kaith, Naorem Mahesh Singh and Seiminlen Doungel, all going on to make their Blue Tigers debut after plying their trade in Lajong. The current Lajong squad also includes several players from the Meghalaya side which made history by reaching the Hero Santosh Trophy Final in Riyadh earlier this year. Other than Sunday's goalscorers Everbrightson Mylliempdah and Figo Syndai, Rajat Paul Lyngdoh, Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh and Henryford Nongneng were part of Meghalaya's fairytale run.
As things stand in the Hero 2nd Division League, Bengaluru United and United SC are out of the running for the top two. Delhi FC's clash with Ambernath United Atlanta on Friday, May 26, will be decisive in determining the second team which will be promoted to the Hero I-League next season. While for Ambernath, a draw will be enough, but only a win will do for Delhi FC. Both sides are chasing their first-ever promotion to the Hero I-League.