The hosts are once again contending for the title while the Reds are struggling with a very young squad.
The 12th Hero I-League edition resumes after a short New Year break with Manipuri side NEROCA FC, currently second on the points table, up against bottom-placed Shillong Lajong in a return leg clash at Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium on Friday, January 4, 2019. The game is scheduled for an afternoon start at 2 PM IST.
The NEROCA-Shillong game also marks the beginning of the second and most important half of the top flight football league, with both teams playing their 11th game, having completed the first round of 10 games in the 11-team league.
The winner of the 12th Hero I-League will emerge after the completion of the second round of 10 games for each team.
NEROCA are looking a formidable unit now under the stewardship of Spanish coach Manuel Fraile and in particular after the return of key players like Katsumi Yusa, Singham Subhash Singh and Lalit Thapa as regulars in their starting eleven.
Australian medio Aryn Glen Williams has also stepped up his distribution and assist game and with strikers like Felix Chidi and defenders Eduardo, Varney Kallon and Ashok Singh in their ranks and in good form, it will be hard for the Shillong youngsters to stop them at home.
Manuel Fraile displayed cautious optimism in the pre-match press chat, expressing, “We must have focus because this team is now different. Now they are trying not to get relegated, take points. We are in very good momentum now. To be honest, we must get those three points, because our next game is against Mohun Bagan again.”
Shillong will try and take heart from their first leg performance where they went down 1-2 in a hard-fought clash. Buam scored a wonderful goal in that game and the likes of Sheen and captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia will look to replicate the smooth movement and build-up play they displayed in that game.
Coach Alsion Kharsyntiew also chose to look at the positives of the Shillong campaign in the pre-match presser, saying, “I know we have been losing all other games, but if you look at the positive side it is good development for the young players. Tomorrow is a very important match for us as we need three points. I know it is difficult against NEROCA. It is a good team with good experienced players but hopefully, our players will perform tomorrow. Last year when we were here we won our three points so hope to win it this year too.”
He, however, has injury concerns with key defenders Rakesh Pradhan and Aibhan missing last games and his team’s record of having conceded a whopping 30 goals so far, by far the highest in the league, will not be helped if the defence keeps floundering.
Shillong have scored 11 so far and NEROCA have just two more, so it is easy to know where the game may be lost or won on Friday.
The home side are unbeaten in their last five games, while Shillong have had a 1-6 drubbing in two of their last three. Given the situation, it would be tough for Shillong to stop NEROCA, but with their fearless, young, attack-minded players, you never know.
The hosts do not have any major injury concerns at the moment and are looking forward to the northeastern derby.
Shillong Lajong FC
The Reds also do not have any injuries going into the game.
NEROCA FC– Thapa (GK), Eduardo, Kallon, Ashok, Tondomba, Katsumi, Chidi, Subash, Malemganba, Aryn, Sebastian
Shillong Lajong FC– Lachenpa (GK), Pradhan, Lalrohlua, Khongshit, Samuel, Hardy, Kynshi, Buam, Dohling, Kenstar
The game kicks off at 2 PM IST on Friday at Khuman Lumpak Stadium. The game will be streamed live on Hotstar and Jio TV.