Shillong, Jan 17: The three biggest priorities for Shillong Lajong in the remaining half of the I-League season could well be ‘finishing, finishing, finishing’.

From having scored six goals in their opening five matches, the Meghalaya team have produced just one more in their last five (four of which were at home) with numerous chances going abegging.

Finishing was on the mind of Lajong assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew (head coach Bobby Nongbet was ill) at the post-match press conference after his side’s 1-0 defeat to table toppers Minerva Punjab on Sunday.

Asked what is the one area the Reds have to work on as they depart for three consecutive away games, Kharsyntiew said, “We have to work hard on our finishing.”

The Minerva fixture was the third in a row at home and in all three games the hosts have had numerous opportunities to score, while converting just the once. Admittedly, Lajong have hit the post and been denied by brilliant goalkeeping and Nongbet has bemoaned a lack of good luck, but this was not something Kharsyntiew reiterated, perhaps because it was he who at the start of the season said, “Luck comes when we work hard.”

Lajong have obviously been working hard, but the goals have almost completely dried up and that has hurt SLFC hard. Their first six goals of 2017-18 were scored by the young North Easterners in the squad – players like Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Alen Deory and Redeem Tlang – while foreign striker Abdoulaye Koffi and attacking midfielder Aiman Al-Hagri suffered injuries. Al-Hagri has played more in recent games but went off after only 25 minutes against Minerva. Koffi appears to have fully recovered, but frustratingly as he returned to fitness Lalmuanpuia suffered a knee injury that kept him off his best game for a while.

Al-Hagri and Koffi were spoken highly of in Lajong’s pre-season literature but have not delivered on the pitch. Of some hope to the team is that their sixth foreigner, striker Saihou CH Jagne, will be available for SLFC’s next matches. Jagne is the only one of the foreign contingent to have played in India before (at Fateh Hyderabad in the Second Division League).

That experience may come in handy, but even more will be his fitness as well as how he gels with his team mates. The Lajong side look like a cohesive unit and their passing and communication have improved in the last two games but the question mark that remains is whether they can convert on their promise and bag vital goals

Like almost every I-League club, Lajong have depended on foreigners for most of their goals (56% of SLFC’s have been scored by their foreigners). However, their signings have largely proved to be hit-and-miss. Cornell Glen and Aser Dipanda were insatiable scorers and during their stints Lajong did reasonably well, but there have also been disastrous years where their foreign strikers have had negligible success.

If the Reds want 2017-18 to be a success they have got to find the target more often. Next up for the Shillong team, in Goa on Friday, are Churchill Brothers, who on Monday finally picked up their first victory. That should give the Goans a shot in the arm, but Lajong should still be confident against one of the poorer outfits this season.

(TSR file photo)

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