Among the two I-League venues that Karim Bencherifa said has got him excited, this is one. Pune is the other. “The atmosphere here should be fantastic," the Mohun Bagan coach said.
"Shillong respects football but this is the first time they will come to see their own (which is what Lajong means in Khasi) play and hopefully beat one of India’s top teams," Lajong FC general-secretary Larsing Ming Saywan said ahead of Thursday's fifth round I-League game against Mohun Bagan.
Bencherifa though is convinced that Mohun Bagan have enough experience to counter that. “We had a good preparation for this, having played in front of 90,000 on Sunday, half of whom were not supporting us. I am sure the boys will enjoy the game,” he said on Wednesday.
Without the suspended N Mohanraj, Mohun Bagan are likely to start with Biswajit Saha as left wingback.
Wiser, by his own admission, about the need to stay calm and with the regret of missing "such a game against East Bengal", Deepak Mondal returns from a two-match suspension in central defence.
That would restore his partnership with Rakesh Masih but also mean that Mohun Bagan haven’t been able to field the same back four in any I-League match so far. And since Bencherifa made the point about Lajong FC coming out “all guns blazing excited and exhorted by the crowd”, it is possible that anticipating early pressure, he could use Ishfaq Ahmed behind Edeh Chidi as the lone forward.
A clean slate on Sunday after Shilton Paul conceded three in the first half means skipper Sangram Mukherjee should return to the starting line-up.
Like Mohun Bagan, Lajong FC don't have a foreigner in the backline. “Daniel (Bidemi) can play there but then the attack suffers,” coach Stanley Rozario said, after training at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex on Wednesday.
That the ground is hard and with little grass is something all visiting coaches are likely to gripe about. “Given the quality of their team and the ability of the management, Lajong FC deserve a better ground. But we should give them time,” he said.
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