"Willis Plaza, the most difficult forward I have faced this season," Chinglensana Singh
“Plaza was hell for me when we met in Kolkata. He certainly has been the most difficult customer I have come against this season,” quipped Chinglensana Singh as he spoke to Sportskeeda. “He is tall, he is strong and also has good ability on the ball. And that makes him a really dangerous customer.”
One of East Bengal’s star this season, Plaza made Shillong feel his presence when he powered home the equaliser for East Bengal. Thankfully for the 20-year-old and his team, the Trinidad and Tobago international has not travelled with the team owing to an injury.
An important clash
Shillong Lajong are all set to go up against league leaders Kingfisher East Bengal on Saturday in another clash that will prove to be a crucial one in shaping the top of the table in what is yet another intriguing season in the I-League. And Chinglensana Singh knows how crucial this game can be in terms of moulding the moods in both camps.
Lajong find themselves fourth on the table as the season reaches the midway mark, but still with a gap of five points to make up from Mohun Bagan (currently placed third) who also have game in hand on Shillong.
East Bengal, meanwhile, come into the game on the back of a 3-1 thrashing of defending champions Bengaluru FC. But they would and rather should be advised to err on the side of caution after having been handed a defeat by high-flying Aizawl when they last visited the North East.
A team that has stuck together
It has been a topsy-turvy I-League season for both Shillong Lajong as well Chinglensana Singh. The team from Meghalaya had the toughest of starts in the I-League as they played defending champions Bengaluru FC, East Bengal and the rejuvenated Aizawl team in the first three games of the I-League.
Three games into the season and the mood in the dressing room was one of despair. Seven goals conceded, one scored and no points to show for their efforts as they were rock bottom of the table.
Things, however, turned for the good for the North East side as they went on a three-game winning streak to get themselves right back on track. And the youngster credits both the coach for helping out of the muddle.
“We were a new team, there were lots of youngsters and we had three new foreigners. So, it took us time to gel at the start of the season. However, we are lucky that it took us only three games,” says Chinglensana.
“And we owe this turnaround to our coach Thangboi Singto. He knows how to handle the youngsters. His words were a constant source of encouragement for us, even when we felt down and out.
“I also have to give it to the character of the youngsters. It’s very easy to be disheartened by the opening results. And that can also lead to players losing faith in the managers. But, kudos to the whole team. We stuck together, listened to the coach and what he had to say and executed better on the field.”
And execute they did. The team which lost three of their opening three games have only lost once in their last seven.
Even though they have managed get only one clean sheet so far this season, they have cut down on the errors. Whilst on the other side, in Aser Pierrick Dipanda, they have found a goal scoring machine who currently is the highest goalscorer in the league with 10 goals from his eight appearances.
Taking the positive from every situation
The youngster, however, was crestfallen not to have seen his name appear amongst the 31 names Stephen Constantine announced a week back for the start of the qualification campaign for the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
However, the defender, who played for the Delhi Dynamos in the ISL last season, wants to take everything as a positive.
“I am bitterly disappointed at having missed out in the Indian squad. But I take it as an added impetus to improve even further,” says the man who despite his improved performances, is yet to find favour with the Indian coach.
“This gives me more motivation. I respect Mr. Constantine’s decision. And yes, there is lots of scope for improvement. When I get into the team, I just don’t be any other defender. I want to be the best in India. I want to be one of at the first names on the team sheet. That’s what I am working towards.”
The words tell of a maturity beyond his years from the man from Manipur. And just to prove his mettle, he has the perfect opportunity as the rampant East Bengal side visit Shillong.
“Teams don’t like coming here. The air is thinner and the crowd is boisterous and we would like to keep it that way for East Bengal.”
The challenge has been laid down. It's now time to walk the talk for the youngster as the likes of Robin Singh, Chrish Payne and the rampant Wedson Anselme look for their next three