After coming from a goal down to draw against Hero I-League toppers Mohun Bagan, Shillong Lajong FC have it all to play for when they host defending champions Bengaluru FC at the JN Stadium, Shillong, on Saturday, 15th April. The match will kick off at 2PM.
Fourth-placed Lajong, on 24 points, will be gunning for victory against the visiting team from Bengaluru in order to keep the latter, who are in fifth position and three points behind Lajong, at bay.
The two sides have met three times before in Shillong in the I-League with the results evenly spread: one win for Lajong, one win for Bengaluru and one draw.
Balancing the top league of Indian football along with the AFC Cup has proved to be a challenge for Albert Roca’s men, who have been unable to match their performances from the previous three seasons of the I-League, in which they have won the title twice, while finishing runners-up once.
BFC are coming into this game after a hard fought last minute 1-0 victory over Aizawl FC at home on 9th April in what was their 75th I-League match as well as a win by the same margin away at Maziya in the AFC Cup five days before that.
However, Bengaluru’s away form in the I-League has not been all that positive, with the Blues registering just one victory on the road in eight games (against newbies Minerva Punjab FC) along with four draws and three defeats. Saturday’s contest will be the defending champions’ final away match of the season and their last chance to improve on their grim statistics.
Winning at Fortress Lajong will be all the more challenging, however, given that the Reds are in no mood to roll over without a fight after holding their own against title contenders Mohun Bagan on Wednesday.
That match saw a fine display of passing skills and teamwork between the likes of Isaac Vanmalsawma, Bipin Singh, Redeem Tlang and Yuta Kinowaki. If there was anything that coach Thangboi Singto was critical about it was the lack of converting the many chances that came the Reds’ way. However, among the positives he identified was the performance of goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who earned his fourth Hero of the Match award this season for an excellent showing under the bar. The mental fortitude of Aser Dipanda Dicka, who had to take a high-pressure penalty kick to bring Lajong back into the game, was yet another positive for the home team.
Speaking on Thursday, Singto said, “Grit, determination and fighting spirit were exhibited by our boys yesterday. On top of that we demonstrated good football and overall it was a fine performance against the strongest team in the I-League.”
The lack of downtime between these high profile matches is an area of concern for the team management, but the gaffer said that the squad are adapting to the situation as best as they can, with both physical and mental recovery a priority.
“Bengaluru are always a good team and they have very experienced players. It will definitely be another challenging match for us,” Singto said about Saturday’s opponents. “We need to continue the way we approached and played against Mohun Bagan, that is, to not be intimidated by them. We have to go for maximum points,” he signed off.