Champions Minerva Punjab FC are on the road for three weeks and their opponents Shillong Lajong are back home after a similar length of time, making up for an intriguing 12th I-League clash at the JLN Nehru Stadium on Friday.
For the champions to have any chance of a renewed bid to defend the title they won last season, they have to win and they have to find a way to get one of their forwards to score.
The only two goals that they have scored in the four games have come from central defender Lancine Toure and they haven’t scored in three out of those four games.
Shillong, on the other hand, might be further away from title aspirations with four losses on the trot in five games, however, they have provided enough evidence that they are a dangerous side and do not buckle down from playing attacking football.
They are a young and talented unit and will be back at home, where they had so impressed in their opener against Aizawl last month. Adaptability to the artificial turf at the JLN will also favour the Shillong youngsters more.
Coach Alison Kharsyntiew reflected the buoyant mood in the Shillong camp sharing on the match-day eve and said: “I am happy with the boys’ performances. It’s just the mistakes here and there including some silly mistakes. Tomorrow will be a different game,” he warned before signing off adding: “We just have to move the ball fast, we can’t hold the ball for too much. We want to promote these young players. If they can play now, they will be confident next season.”
Minerva will also be wary of the fact that the one problem Shillong don’t have is scoring goals. Youngsters like Sheen, Rakesh Pradhan, Mahesh Singh, Samuel Lyngdoh, ably marshalled by captain Lalmuanpuia have shown great creativity and imagination to be one of the top scoring sides of the league with six goals to their credit.
Also, some of the best and well-constructed goals of the league have come from Shillong.
So, Minerva will always have to be conscious of pushing too far ahead to score and Lajong will have to be far tighter in their defensive play, having conceded 12 goals in the campaign so far.
On the eve of the clash, Minerva’s Irish coach Paul Munster said: “We have come up with a completely new team and we know that we have to start from scratch. Obviously, it’s not good enough. Now, we have to win each game.”
“We had two good training sessions, we have a good team bonding and that’s the most important thing. Our players’ style is different. The worst thing will be if we don’t have any chance to score. The strikers need the confidence and score goals,” he added.