The most highly anticipated match of the Hero I-League 2016-17 season, the North East Derby between Shillong Lajong FC and Aizawl FC, is just a few days away and, given the expected interest in the fixture, special arrangements have been made regarding tickets. The match will be held at the JN Stadium, Shillong, on Sunday, 30th April, at 7PM.
The atmosphere for the final round of the season will be intense as thousands of away fans are expected to journey to Fortress Lajong and cheer for the visiting team. Aizawl fans wishing to purchase these A-category tickets can do so exclusively at the Lajong counter at the SSA Ground in Polo.
Aizawl will win their first I-League title if they win or draw against Lajong, but the Reds have much to play for and are eager to put their best foot forward in the derby game.
In their seventh season of top flight football, Lajong are fifth in the standings. A loss for fourth-placed Bengaluru FC on Saturday against Churchill Brothers would then give the Reds a chance to finish in the top four and they will have to beat Aizawl to do just that.
Even if the Bengaluru-Churchill equation does not work out in Lajong’s favour, the club want to end their best ever season on a high note. The first team from the North East in the I-League is guaranteed to end the year no lower than fifth, which would be their highest finish, but the players are aiming to pay back the faith, love and trust of the Lajong Faithfuls with their best performance in the season finale.
Speaking at a press conference here on Wednesday, Shillong Lajong Club advisor and former player Jeremy Wahlang said that Aizawl will have to fight tooth and nail in Shillong.
“As a football fan and a North Easterner, I would love Aizawl to win the title, but that can’t happen at our expense. Lajong are not going to give away an inch and I hope we’re going to break a few Aizawl hearts by winning on Sunday,” Wahlang said.
Club General Manager Habamutlang Lyngdoh said that the team are thrilled to have performed as well as they have this season and that there are stark differences in the objectives of Lajong and Aizawl.
“Our philosophy is based on developing North East football talent,” Lyngdoh said. “This season we have regularly fielded between 7 and 8 under-22 players in the starting line-up. And the bulk of our players are from the North East. Some of our youngsters have played in more than 40 I-League matches thus far and there aren’t many other teams that can say that. Lajong has always been a platform for North East players to develop – look at Aiborlang Khongjee, Rocus Lamare (both of whom are back with the Reds) and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who have all gone on to play for the Indian national team,” he added.
The young Lajong outfit have certainly exceeded expectations this season, winning 7 games, 3 of which were on the road in tough conditions. The club have been unbeaten in 6 consecutive away games, the only side to have done that this season. Lajong also boast of the lead scorer this season – Aser Dipanda Dicka – who has 10 goals to his name, but there have been contributions aplenty from the youngsters, who have scored 9 goals amongst them. The U-22 Reds have also earned 7 Hero of the Match awards, 4 of which were for goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who has had a terrific season between the posts.
The pride that the team can take in their efforts this season was summed up by Wahlang, who said, “Fifth place is a great achievement. This is a young side that we believe in and who have been together for a long time, many coming through the Lajong Academy. We were a little apprehensive at the start of the season, but we can’t take anything away from the young guys and next year we have to go one step further.”
The support of the Lajong Faithfuls through thick and thin has been of fundamental importance in the success of the club. Well over 40,000 fans have thronged the JN Stadium over the course of this season, with more popping up at away venues across the country.
The Reds thus want to give it their all in the season finale and Wahlang concluded by urging the fans to come out in force for one more time this year. Lajong Faithfuls can also pick up their tickets at the Lajong counter at the SSA Ground, Polo, as well as at the following locations: Sports Spirit, MUDA Complex Police Bazaar; Meba Stationery, Jingkieng Nongthymmai; Meghalaya Print, Malki; and The Mobile Centre, Police Bazaar.