I-League: Lajong, Chennai City look to continue winning run

High on confidence after consecutive wins over Minerva Punjab and Mumbai FC, the team from Shillong will be raring to go against Chennai, a team in a decent form itself after beating Aizawl FC in its previous match.

Chennai City FC players practice ahead of their match against Shillong Lajong.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Buoyed by the maiden win in the previous round debutant Chennai City FC will seek to extend the success against home favourite Shillong Lajong FC when the two square up in an I-League encounter here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday.

The task for the tournament newcomer assumes a range of difficulties as it comes up against the proficiency of the home side that won both its previous two matches while playing on the artificial field turf which is unknown to the former. Added to this is the chill in the air, which takes down the mercury by many degrees compared to the warmth of City’s home venue bearing the same nomenclature in Chennai, where it beat another North-East opponent, Aizawl FC, to taste the first win of the tournament.

Head coach Robin Charles Raja, who arrived with the team just the day before, hardly had the time to assess the conditions but put up a bold face saying his side has been dealing with such issues from beginning and the boys have learned to handle it well. “Five of our players joined us three days before the first game. So, we are taking it match by match,” Raja said. The seasoned gaffer said any team will have to accept the conditions in the tournament played in a ‘home-away’ format and as such his team is ready accept challenges posed by weather and terrain.

''Some players may have played on artificial turf but for us as Chennai City FC we have not played on it. But once we get to the field it is going to be just another match,” Raja said. The visitor’s aspirations hinged on the availability of a fit squad for selection while goalkeeper Karanjit Singh remained the only absentee owing to injury. Replacement Abhra Mondal, the former East Bengal custodian, is well accustomed to the conditions and is expected to make up for the former’s absence under the bar. Defender and captain D. Ravanan, who missed the last match with injury, attended the training but is yet to regain full fitness.

Chennai City FC will be baking on the positives in its attack which is built around the form and fitness of its two Brazilian strikers Marcos Tank and Charles de Souza, both of whom scored in the team’s 2-0 win against Aizawl. The presence of a good midfield and a balanced defence would be keeping the visitor hopeful about stopping a strong opponent like Shillong Lajong.

The host has every reason to feel confident about making a hat-trick of home wins especially after downing relatively strong oppositions like Mumbai FC (3-1) and Minerva Punjab FC (2-1) in the previous two outings at home. “The team needed some time to play together to gel and I think it has finally started to show on the field,” was how head coach Thangboi Singto assessed Lajong’s latest success. “We have to now continue with this style of play. We started with the first home game against Minerva and we have progressed from there. We played much better against Mumbai in terms of creating chances and we need to carry the momentum forward,” he added.

Singto felt the tournament scheduling could have been better to have the teams performing to their potential. “I think the duration of the I-League does not really help to make the fixtures feasible as because it is strung on a tight format with the tournament ending in April. It could have been longer or maybe with a match in a week for each side. It could have given players more rest and if they rest better, definitely their performance on the pitch will be better,” Singo said.

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