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Young, inexperienced Shillong Lajong confident of punching above weight

Despite losing most of their senior players from last season, Shillong Lajong are confident of a strong showing in the I-League this season

football Updated: Nov 26, 2017 22:38 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Indian football,Shillong Lajong FC,I-League 2017-18
Alison Kharsyntiew (C), Shillong Lajong’s long-serving academy coach, will serve as assistant in the Bobby Nongbet-led coaching staff this season. (AIFF)

There has been a near-complete overhaul at Shillong Lajong ahead of the 2017-18 I-League season. With a number of key players from last season moving to other clubs in the Indian Super League (ISL) and within the top-flight itself, the current squad of the club is vastly different from the one that finished fifth in the league in 2016-17.

The club earned close to one-and-a-half crore from player sales during the ISL draft earlier this year. In the process, they also lost some of their most talented youngsters.

In the summer, the club parted ways with Thangboi Singto, who had served as the team’s head coach from the middle of the 2011-12 season. This brought to an end Singto’s long association with Lajong. The current Kerala Blasters assistant coach had earlier served as an assistant at the club.

The job of steering the ship this season has been handed to 36-year-old Bobby Nongbet, who previously oversaw youth development programs at Lajong and Royal Wahingdoh.

READ | I-League lit the spark in Northeast football

Bobby Nongbet is the new head coach of Shillong Lajong FC. (HT photo)

Nongbet has, at his disposal, the second youngest squad in the league after Indian Arrows, the AIFF developmental side.

The average age of Lajong’s 24-member squad is 21 while that of the 19 Indian players in the squad is just 19.52.

Head coach Nongbet said he isn’t too worried about the lack of experience.

“I am confident age will not be a factor for them to challenge the other teams and make an impact in the league.

“Many of the young boys have played junior I-League as well as the local league here in Shillong, hence they have developed very well in the last two years,” he told Hindustan Times ahead of the club’s season opener against Gokulam Kerala in Shillong on Monday.

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“The experience of foreign players will certainly help these young boys adapt in each and every match this season,” he added.

Nongbet will be assisted by Alison Kharsyntiew, Lajong’s long-serving academy coach. Kharsyntiew has been responsible for producing a number of talented youngsters in recent years.

On the pitch, the club’s highly-rated 19-year-old forward Samuel Lalmuanpuia will wear the armband, with 22-year-old Redeem Tlang, another youth product of the club and a regular in recent seasons, expected to play a more prominent role in the offensive line due to his seniority in the squad.

Given the scale of change at the club in recent months that has robbed them of experience, Lajong will be one of the lesser-fancied teams as far as the title race is concerned.

Nongbet, however, said a top three finish will be a realistic target. “Despite many players being sold to ISL clubs this year, we are very optimistic about this team’s potential and are hoping to finish among the top three in the league this season,” he said.

READ | Why the I-League will miss Bengaluru FC this season

Shillong Lajong squad for 2017-18 I-League

Goalkeepers - Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, Neithovilie Chalieu and Nidhinlal Moolaka Veedu.

Defenders - Aibankupar Dohling, Kenstar Kharshong, Allen Lyngdoh, Kynsailang Khongsit, Rakesh Pradhan, Novin Gurung, Juho Oh and Laurence Doe.

Midfielders - Hardycliff Nongbri, Redeem Tlang, Samuel James Lyngdoh Kynshi, Donboklang Lyngdoh, F. Lalrohlua, Daniel Odafin, Sr. Kagaly Anal.

Forwards - Lalrammuana, Shaiborlang Kharpan, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Alen Deory, Abdoulaye Koffi, Aiman Saleh Al Hagri.

First Published: Nov 26, 2017 22:13 IST