Preview: Shillong Lajong look to ward off relegation with win against East Bengal
Shillong, May 29 (IANS) Shillong Lajong FC will aim for a win that will help them avoid relegation as they play their last match of the Hero I-League season against East Bengal (EB), who are eager for a third place finish, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.
East Bengal have fond memories of playing here, having thrashed SLFC 4-0 the last time the two teams faced off in the Pine City, a result that the Reds would surely like to put behind them.
This season has been a thoroughly disappointing one for Lajong and their fans. After finishing the last 2013-14 season on a high of sixth place, they have never really got their campaign going this time around.
Even six straight home games has not been much of an advantage, with the hosts losing three, drawing one and winning just two. The hosts are coming into this fixture on the back of two consecutive losses and with a defence that is still weak, going up against the Red & Gold brigade will be no easy task.
Both teams have relied on a couple of players to score the bulk of their goals -- for the visitors, it has been Nigerians Ranti Martins (leading the chart with 17) and Dudu Omagbemi (7), while for Lajong, Cornell Glen (13) and Uilliams Souza Silva (7) have led the way.
However, Lajong will be able to field a reasonably strong team, with Uilliams coming back from suspension, while coach Thangboi Singto also indicated that captain Aiborlang Khongjee may be able to play after sitting out several games with a persistent injury.
The tourists, meanwhile, have an injury concern in Gurwinder Singh, while Shylo Malsawmatulanga will miss the match after picking up a red card in the previous outing.
East Bengal won the reverse fixture back on February 1 and the Kolkatans have a slight advantage when it comes to the head-to-head record, winning two and losing one of the five matches the two clubs have played against each other.
East Bengal have also managed to reverse a slump in form by winning their most recent match, against Royal Wahingdoh FC; they had previously lost three I-League matches on the trot and had gone winless in two AFC Cup matches as well.
Last year's runners-up are currently in fourth place on 29 points, just one behind Wahingdoh, who have finished off their season. They are also tied on points with fifth-placed Pune FC, who will face Sporting Clube de Goa on the same day.
The lowest position East Bengal can finish in is 5th place. A victory for Lajong would assure them a place in the next season and, with all four of Saturday's matches being held at the same time, they will not have the luxury of a wait and see approach.
The Reds are in ninth spot, one place and one point ahead of Dempo SC. Bharat FC are at the bottom for the moment, but even if they finish there, they will not be relegated as part of their direct entry deal into the I-League.
So the battle to avoid the drop revolves around Salgaocar, Sporting, Lajong and Dempo, with each team involved on Saturday.