Shillong, Oct 31: Shillong Lajong are preparing to host East Bengal at the JN Stadium here tomorrow and both sides are gearing up for a difficult I-League match. Kick-off is at 2PM.

Fortress Lajong has been pretty good to the Reds, at least when facing up against the Kolkata giants; East Bengal have only won twice in eight meetings in Shillong.

Both sides are coming into this fixture on a winning note – EB pulled off an excellent 2-0 away win at NEROCA, while Lajong won the first North East derby of the season against Aizawl at home 2-1.

“The win against Aizawl gave us confidence and experience,” SLFC coach Alison Kharsyntiew said at the pre-match press conference here today. “Tomorrow will be a different match and we have to be mentally tough. Playing East Bengal is always tough. This season they have experienced, quality players in defence and attack.”

Much has been made of East Bengal signing up Costa Rican international defender Johnny Acosta, but, while Kharsyntiew admitted that he is a good player, he said, “On the field the most important thing is playing as a team. If we do that I think we can win.”

Meanwhile, even though his side came out on top against NEROCA, East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez wants more from his boys.

“Against NEROCA the team was at 40% of the level I wanted, but they gave their 100% and the win gave us good confidence,” the Spaniard said through an interpreter. “We know it will be a difficult match. It’s not important how young the Lajong players are. We will still have to give our maximum level to win.”

Mahmoud Al Amna will definitely not be playing for the visitors as he has a back injury, but Menendez has full faith in his squad, saying, “All of our players are ready to play in the starting XI.”

Also present at the press conference were Lajong defender and local lad Aiban Dohling and EB’s midfielder Lalrindika Ralte.

Ralte, who’s been with the Kolkata side for a number of years, said, “It’s always a tough match for us here, but this year is totally different. We respect Lajong, who have no foreigners, and they played a good match against Aizawl. Everyone in our team trusts and is ready to help each other and we have confidence ahead of tomorrow.”

Dohling, who only really started making regular appearances for SLFC towards the end of last season’s I-League, had a stellar outing in defence against Aizawl and could’ve bagged the man-of-the-match award had Naorem Mahesh Singh not scored a brace.

“It was a team performance against Aizawl. We did well and I’m happy for my team mates and for my own performance too. We’re ready for the big match tomorrow and game by game we’re getting experience and learning by playing against the best. That will help us a lot,” he said.

(TSR photo)

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