Shillong, Feb 2: Shillong Lajong FC have returned home and are looking to put their best foot forward in their remaining five matches of the 2017-18 I-League season, the first of which sees them take on Mohun Bagan tomorrow at the JN Stadium at 5:30PM.
Lajong had three games on the road prior to this, first losing to Churchill Brothers 2-0, then winning against NEROCA by the same margin, before forgoing a 2-1 advantage to lose 3-2 at Gokulam Kerala.
At the pre-match press conference today assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew summed up the three most recent matches thus: “Versus Churchill Brothers we played badly in the first and second halves despite dominating the game. Against NEROCA we played very well and against Gokulam Kerala it was a poor performance.”
The tight schedule of fixtures could also have had a role to play in the Reds’ performance, the assistant gaffer said, with the three games played in Goa, then Imphal and finally Kozhikode all in the space of just nine days.
“That’s in the past and now we have to keep going and perform well against Mohun Bagan. Our objective is to get points in all five remaining games and if we finish the league in the top four or five that will be great for us,” Kharsyntiew said.
The club also confirmed that attacking midfielder Aiman Al-Hagri has been released after the Yemeni made the request because of a family emergency.
“Aiman’s absence will not affect us because he was only used as a substitute in the last three games,” Kharsyntiew opined, adding that the team will stick to the squad they have for the rest of the season.
TSR also quizzed Kharsyntiew on just who really is steering Lajong – him or Bobby Nongbet, a subject of interest to our readers.
Kharsyntiew said that it’s definitely a collective effort with both coaches working well together.
“I have learned a lot from him (Nongbet). He’s more experienced and has been at the club before and he is also an A-license coach,” Kharsyntiew said.
However, with elections coming up in Meghalaya and Nongbet a full-fledged government employee, he may not have much time for SLFC until at least the end of the month, which could explain his non-show today.
Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan will go into tomorrow’s fixture facing two opponents – Lajong and the weather.
With Shillong experiencing temperatures around the 10 degree Celsius mark in the evenings, Bagan coach Shankarlal Chakraborty, “The weather will make it very, very tough for us. There will be two teams we will be facing tomorrow – Lajong and the weather.”
He was quick to add, however, that it will be no excuse for a poor performance.
Despite lying in fourth place with 17 points from 11 games, Chakraborty said there was still hope of the Mariners securing another I-League title.
“We are still looking (for the title) as the league table is still open. My message to the players is always to take it match by match,” the coach said.
This match will, however, only be Bagan’s third outside of Calcutta this season. They managed to scrape through with a 1-1 draw against Aizawl FC in their previous fixture.
Past history also suggests a deadlock on Saturday – Lajong and Bagan have drawn eight of 15 I-League meetings, including the reverse fixture on December 14 in Calcutta, which ended 1-1.
The visitors will be counting on the local knowledge provided by two of their players – Yuta Kinowaki and Aser Dipanda – who both played for Lajong last season. Dipanda, the lead scorer this season, won the Golden Boot last year for SLFC and scored 10 of his 11 goals in 2016-17 in Shillong.
However, Chakraborty is wary of the hosts. He described Lajong as always tough when playing on their home turf and captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia as the “best set-piece player in India.”