Shillong, Oct 27: Shillong will get its I-League season off and running with a North East derby between local club Shillong Lajong FC and Aizawl FC at the JN Stadium tomorrow at 5PM.

In three meetings here Lajong have never lost to Aizawl (two wins to Lajong, one draw), but the 2016-17 champions will look to change that record tomorrow and start their season with a victory.

Lajong have raised eyebrows in the pre-season with their decision to field an all-North Eastern squad drawn from its academy or other youngsters roped in from around the region.

Coach Alison Kharsyntiew, however, sounded confident about this decision at the pre-match press conference today.

“It’s a good decision taken by the club,” Kharsyntiew said. “The club’s objective is to promote and give an opportunity to young domestic players, so this season it is a big test and a big challenge for us.”

With the same young bunch of players Lajong have reached the final of the Shillong Premier League, which will take place on November 2.

“The SPL has helped us very much in shaping the team and working on our strengths as well as weaknesses. As long as we stay together as a team, it’ll be difficult to beat us”.

In charge of Aizawl this season is Gift Raikhan, who led NEROCA from the Second Division League into the I-League and then to second place in their debut season last year, which was the best achievement by a North East club in the I-League in their first year.

Known for his attacking style of play, Raikhan is aiming for a fantastic start to Aizawl’s campaign, and he is not taking the inexperienced Lajong boys for granted.

“In terms of preparation, we have been doing good because of the Mizoram Premier League,” the Aizawl coach said. “We have a lot of pressure on us because I know how good these Lajong boys are. We cannot relax because as soon as we relax we will be in massive danger,” he added.

Unlike Lajong, Aizawl have been busy signing up players for the I-League.

Former Mohun Bagan striker Ansumana Kromah is one of the new recruits, along with former Churchill Brothers midfielder Bektur Talgat Uulu. Though they didn’t have great seasons recently, Raikhan is positive about drawing out the best in these, and his other, charges.

Lajong-Aizawl matches have been very well-attended over the years, with the visitors drawing much of their support from Mizoram residents living in Shillong as well as plenty of travelling fans as well, so it is sure to be a good start for the I-League 2018-19 season.

(Photo contributed by Shillong Lajong FC)

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