Bhaichung Bhutia heads the ball during the match against Mohammedan Sporting at Paljor Stadium in Gangtok on Tuesday. Picture by Prabin Khaling
Gangtok, April 17: United Sikkim entered the I-League with a 1-1 draw against Mohammedan Sporting in the final match of the second division here today.
Bhaichung Bhutia’s boys are the second team from the Northeast to make it to the I-League first division after Lajong FC. Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling was among the 15,000 supporters who thronged Paljor Stadium to cheer for the home team.
United Sikkim took the lead in the 30th minute through a penalty. Winger Thoi Singh of the Calcutta club was brought down in the box leading to the spot kick that was converted into a goal for United Sikkim by striker Daniel Bidemi.
Mohammedan Sporting found the equaliser through Alfred Jaryan in the 55th minute. The rest of the match was of missed chances for both the sides and the game ended in a draw.
As Mohammedan Sporting was third on the points table, only a win against United Sikkim would have ensured its birth in the I-League.
The draw gave one point to both the clubs but the tally of United Sikkim reached 22, one more than that of the Calcutta club.
ONGC Mumbai had qualified for the I-League with 22 points yesterday. Only two teams from the second division I-League are promoted to the senior division.
United Sikkim co-owner Bhaichung, who played as a substitute for 20 minutes in the second half, dedicated the team’s I-League qualification to the supporters.
“It is a very exciting moment for United Sikkim to qualify for the I-League. My dream to take the club to the I-League has finally come true. The hard work has finally paid off and I hope that United Sikkim will give an equally good performance in the I-League,” said Bhaichung.
“The amount of support we got from the home crowd was amazing. I will be visiting all schools in the next few days to thank students for their support. I also thank the chief minister for watching the match today,” said Bhaichung.
Top officials of FidelisWorld, a co-owner of United Sikkim, were also in the gallery.
“We congratulate Bhaichung and his team for entering into I-League within two years of the club’s inception. Now, our goal is to become the most professional club in India,” said A. Krishnan, the executive chairman of the Dubai-based group.
With United Sikkim finding a place in the I-League, premier clubs like East Bengal, Mohan Bagan and Dempo SC will play their away matches at Paljor Stadium when the season starts in September-October. It has been several years since a top national club played in Sikkim.