I-League: Plaza hattrick helps Churchill beat Lajong 4-2
Vasco : Churchill Brothers registered their first win of the I-League season with the help of a Willis Plaza hattrick as they beat Shillong Lajong 4-2 at the Tilak Maidan here on Thursday.
Playing their first home game of the season, the Goan giants struck four against Shillong's two to rise up the league standings to third place.
Captain Dawda Cessay scored the fourth for Churchill while for Shillong it was the two Samuels, captain Lalmuanpuia and Lyngdoh who got on the scoresheet.
Churchill's Romanian coach Petre Gigiu opted to make three changes to the starting XI from the one which played in the previous game against Real Kashmir FC, one of them forced. First choice keeper James Kithan who had been sent off against Kashmir was replaced by Vicky Baskaran.
Besides, midfielder Aniston Fernandes started his first game for Churchill this season. Jovel Martins also got another start and the players missing were Khalid Aucho and Nalappan Mohanraj, out injured.
For Shillong, Naorem Mahesh Singh, the man who had that wonderful double strike in their league opener, lost his place after some uninspiring displays.
Sheen Stevenson was rewarded with a start by coach Alison, presumably for his role in the goal against Gokulam in the previous encounter. In defense, Kynsaillang Khongsit came in place of Kenstar Kharsong and they had a change in goal as well, with Phurba Lachempa replacing Neithovilie Chalieu.
The home team dominated the proceedings throughout with 24 shots on goal against 10 for their opponents. Only eight of them were on target though.
From the first half itself, their foreign strike force of Trinidadian Willis Plaza and Gambian Dawda Cessay seemed to be in the mood in particular.
To give an idea of Churchill's domination in the first half, they got eight corners to Shillong's one in the first 45 minutes. Along with the two foreigners, Israel Gurung also had a wonderful game on the left flank for the homeside.
However, it was their Serbian defender Nenand Novakovic who got the first chance of the game as early as the 4th minute, when he missed a header from their first corner.
It was a free-flowing game with Plaza and Israil Gurung guitly of misses for Churchill while Samuel Lalmuanpuia and Buam also had attempts on goal for Shillong.
Finally in the 18th minute, Plaza, after missing an easy volley five minutes earlier, struck his first goal of the 12th Hero I-League to give Churchill the lead. Ceesay got hold of the ball on the right flank and fired in a left-footed cross.
Plaza was perfectly positioned between two Shillong defenders and rose to head home comfortably before an oncoming Lachempa could get to the ball.
After Plaza muffed up one and created another chance which Hangshing missed, Shillong captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia equalised for the visitors in the 30th minute.
Off an attack involving Sheen and Buam, the lose ball came the captain's way inside the box and he executed a calm controlled right-footed curler, beating Vicky in the near post.
Hussein Eldor almost put Churchill ahead again two minutes later, as his tap in from an Israil Gurung free-kick brought about a reflex save from Lachempa.
Churchill did go ahead again thanks to a stunning strike by Dawda Ceesay. Willis Plaza got the assist this time as he chased down a cross down to the Lajong left flank, played a 1-2 with Cessay to cut inside with some calypso skills, and laid the ball back towards the path of Ceesay.
The Gambian took one touch and with his second unleashed a left-footer from the top of the box which angled over Lachempa to settle into the top left corner of the Lajong goal.
Shillong set the tone for the second half with a wonderful team goal in the 48th minute to get back on level terms.
Sheen started the move from the right flank. He held on long enough for Khongsit to come up with an awe-inspiring overlap from deep defense.
Sheen laid it onto Khongsit who burst in to cut back for Samuel Lyngdoh, who beat Vicky with his placement for a beautifully constructed goal.
However, just like in the first half, Churchill restored their lead immediately. Israil Gurung's free kick delivery from the left was met high inside the box by Plaza and his headed touch found the back of the net.
Plaza then got his hattrick, the second of the 12th Hero I-League, when he went on a solo run on the break and calmly finished with a low angled grounder for the score to read 4-2 in Churchill's favour.
Alison brought on a defender in Nabin Rabha in place of midfielder Hnamte in the 68th minute and also Naorem Mahesh Singh in place of Buam, three minutes later, but to no avail.
As Churchill moved to third with this victory, Shillong after their fourth consecutive defeat, remain in the ninth position in spite of a good showing by the young all-Indian squad.