Shillong: Lajong FC and East Bengal will meet on Monday in a high-pressure match for both the sides.
The game will be Lajong’s last outing of the I-League 2017-18 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here. A victory will give the home team the fifth place in the standings and with that a direct spot in the Super Cup.
But for East Bengal, the reward is much bigger. This will be their penultimate match of the league and their last engagement will be against Neroca FC on March 8. If East Bengal manage to win both the games, they will take the I-League home, something that has eluded them for almost an eternity. With Polo Grounds occupied during the day with election results, East Bengal practised under floodlights at the venue.
“It’s a vital match and we’re playing a good team, so everyone must give 100 per cent from defence to midfield. The boys know everything they need to know to win a match,” said East Bengal coach Khalid Jamil at the pre-match press conference on Sunday. “We have to think positively and not think about anything else,” he added, referring to their position in the standings.
East Bengal have won eight games so far and have only lost thrice – twice to Mohun Bagan and a shocker to Gokulam Kerala. East Bengal thrashed Lajong 5-1 in the first leg fixture in December.
East Bengal are currently in fourth place after Mohun Bagan’s 2-1 win over Churchill Brothers on Saturday. But they have a game in hand over the top three, having played 16 matches to the others’ 17.
For the visitors, everyone is available for the game except for defender Eduardo Ferreira. Lajong on the other hand will miss key midfielder Hardycliff Nongbri, who sustained an ankle injury early on in the last match against Aizawl FC.
Lajong reversed a long series of poor results with a 2-1 win over Aizawl last month at home. That was a morale-boosting win and since then, Lajong have had a long break to recuperate, something assistant coach Alison Kharsyntiew pointed out as important.
“The long break won’t affect us (negatively). We needed the break because we had too many matches and we’ll be playing with fresh legs tomorrow,” Kharsyntiew said.
He identified Katsumi Yusa, Ansumana Kromah, and Mahmoud Al-Amna as three of the players his boys will have to watch out for.
Lajong are currently in the sixth position with 21 points. Victory in their final match will take them level on 24 with Aizawl, but the Reds will be in front on head-to-head count.
The home team have a bad record when it comes to season-ending matches, except, that is, when playing East Bengal – Lajong have beaten the red and gold brigade on all three occasions when they have faced them in the final match of an I-League campaign.
“We’ve been working on all departments,” Kharsyntiew said, adding, “Both teams will feel the pressure and I’ve been telling the players to play like it’s the last game of their life.”
Kharsyntiew must be knowing that East Bengal will be doing the same. They want to win the title desperately and are expected to go that extra mile achieve their target.