I-League: Neroca to face bottom-placed Shillong Lajong
The 12th I-League edition will resume after a short break with Manipuri side Neroca FC, currently second on the points table, taking on bottom-placed Shillong Lajong in a return leg clash at the Khuman Lampak stadium here on Friday.
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 games, having completed the first round of 10 games in the 11-team league.
The winner of the 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 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 and said: "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.
Speaking on the eve of the clash, Shillong coach Alsion Kharsyntiew said: "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 added.
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.-IANS