Shillong Lajong FC will play host to I-League defending champions and table toppers, Mohun Bagan AC on Tuesday in a Hero I-League 14th round encounter at the J.N.Stadium, Shillong at 4:30 PM IST.
The home side will be on their toes for this one as they have managed to regain their confidence back after that thrilling 3-1 win against the North East neighbours, Aizawl FC. Fabio Henrique scored a brace and at the age of only 17 years Lajong academy lad Samuel Lalmuanpuia scored his first I-League goal for the Reds in last Friday’s North East Derby.
The Mariners on the other hand have suffered immensely in their recent matches, having lost head coach Sanjoy Sen for four matches due to suspension. This has resulted in a poor run of defeats against Aizawl FC and a Kolkata derby disappointment. The Mariners also lost assistant coach Shankarlal Chakrabarti in their previous match and so physical trainer Djair De Miranda Garcia will take over proceedings for the Lajong face off.
Thangboi Singto who has managed to rally his troops through that North East derby match will be looking to capitalise on Mohun Bagan’s poor run lately, with the added absence of Sanjoy Sen and Shankarlal Chakrabati. He added, “A new and big challenge awaits us tomorrow. Mohun Bagan are one of the best teams in the league. The quality they possess is very good and the players are always fit and well looked after. For us though, I think we had a good result but then we have to look forward to the four matches remaining for us.”
Shillong Lajong are sitting in 4th position in the league but only two points separate them and the bottom team. Thangboi said, “A win by any team can catapult them to a much higher position so we just have to look at it one match at a time. We hope to see a good crowd tomorrow that will give us much needed impetus and motivation”. The Lajong head coach though feels like the absence of Mohun Bagan’s head and assistant coaches and their recent drop in form “won’t make much of a difference” as he expects the visitors to be well prepared for the match. He added, “The coach only works in the training pitch but it is the players who will have to carry it out on the field.”
Mohun Bagan Physical trainer Garcia was also present at the pre-match press conference in the city and had this to say, “I have to repeat the same words, it is a very tough match and will be very difficult for us. I have known Thangboi Singto for the past 8 years and I know he is a quality coach. My team are mentally and psychologically prepared for this game, a game which could kill us or make us survive.” The Kolkatta side are on top of the table with 25 points from 13 games but their defeat against East Bengal have just allowed their cross city rivals to get back in contention for the title along with Bengaluru FC who are on equal points but with a game still to play. The fight at the top is a three horse race and this match will more or less decide the fate of The Mariners.
Shillong Lajong’s Penn Orji who will take the captain’s armband in Aibor Khongjee’s abscence is aware that at this stage “every point counts and we need to make the most out of these opportunities”. Penn Orji who was a part of East Bengal does have that extra zeal in facing Mohun Bagan at which he describes “is a delight”. He also lauded praises for the young starlets of Lajong who burst into the scene in this edition of the Hero I-League, “they were really in good spirit in the last match and I know they will carry it on”.
Mohun Bagan will miss Haitian Sony Norde who has been one of their most important players and Garcia understands “For us it is a big loss”. Shillong Lajong though have some problems of their own after losing influential club captain Aibor Khongjee for probably the rest of the season as he suffered an injury during the India vs Iran match in Iran, informed Singto. Fabio Pena who scored that match winning brace against Aizawl FC is also doubtful as the Brazlian striker received an injury after scoring that second goal and head coach Thangboi Singto admitted that he “might be looked on again tomorrow”.
A highly tight contest will be played at the JN Stadium Shillong on Tuesday at 4:30pm. Lajong who have climbed to fourth position in the I-League table will aim for full points. The Reds have only two home games and two away games remaining and cannot afford a slip in any match. Thangboi and his men will look to maintain consistency henceforth and convert their chances into goals which will help them in ending their season on a promising note.