Shillong Lajong FC are playing in their maiden edition of the Durand Cup but it hasn’t been an easy introduction as they have suffered two defeats to NorthEast United FC and FC Goa. With a game to go on Sunday, Lajong head coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet has been kind enough to answer a few questions from TSR about the tournament and how important it is in helping the club prepare for a return to the I-League…

TSR: Lajong are currently involved in the Durand Cup for the very first time and it has been a tough couple of matches against Indian Super League teams. As a coach, how do you assess the performance of the young team against these bigger ones?

BLN: Yes, it’s a great opportunity to be a part of this edition of the Durand Cup. But the fixtures against the well-organised ISL teams were a little too early for us to anticipate when we speak about our qualification to the I-League and our preparations.

We are at the pre-season phase, so versus NorthEast United FC and FC Goa it was always going to be a massacre. Nevertheless, we wanted to see at what capacity we are progressing and, with that in mind, we were positive to give them a challenge. It has been a learning experience, an adventure in fact.

TSR: What does Lajong hope to get out of this tournament? Is it more of a preparation for I-League reentry?

BLN: As competitive as this tournament is, we are only looking at the exposure, experience, experiments and tactical understanding overall. There is a lot to garner from these exposure matches and they will help us a long way preparing for the I-League and beyond.

TSR: Have there been any positives you have noticed in the two games so far? Any particular areas you want to work on?

BLN: Definitely, certainly a huge number of positives especially in terms of personnel and capacity. We have a lot to improve on. We can start with the psychological aspects of concentration, behaviour, individual and team mental strength, control, etc. Then the technical, tactical aspects come in. We are just preparing for the I-League as of now, not that we are there already. There’s a lot of difference.

TSR: Downtown Heroes will be your opponents in the next match. You played them earlier this year in the Second Division League qualifiers. Will it be the best hope for a victory?

BLN: A lot has been observed and learned from the last two matches played. So, we are all heads up against Downtown Heroes, who will try to manipulate us based on the results versus NEUFC and FC Goa. But we have evaluated and made necessary improvements. We should do better against them.

TSR: Being a state government coach and now with the added responsibility of being the District Sports Officer of Ri-Bhoi, how do you go about managing the two roles? Are we sure to see you remain as Lajong coach for the I-League?

BLN: Well on that, I sincerely appreciate the support of our Director of Sports & Youth Affairs for allowing me to prepare and accompany the team. A lot of adjustments have been made to support the club in terms of technical training and coaching and also that the team representing the state is not neglected.

And if I should or could remain as the coach of Lajong, that again depends entirely on the club’s decision and requirements.

(Photo contributed)

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