Bhogtoram Mawroh decries Lajong’s lack of faith in their talented local players and pushes for some tough decisions to be taken in the interests of the team


Watching Lajong play Mohan Bagan felt like being in Salt Lake, with Mohan Bagan fans shouting and goading their players (there were a few Mohan Bagan supporters sitting in front of me at the JN Stadium) and their team playing as though Lajong was the away side.

One can understand Lajong’s tired looking performance against Gokulam Kerala (on 28th January). Their schedule had involved a lot of travelling and adjustment to highly contrasting weather conditions. However, this time around they had the benefit of almost a week’s rest and home advantage.

Read more: Mariners blitz Lajong 3-0

Mohan Bagan’s coach had admitted that playing on a cold evening in Shillong was one of their biggest challenges. So watching Lajong’s lack of energy and pressing was excruciatingly painful. The team tried to come back stronger in the second half but it was already too late. The only joy I could get was watching Bagan supporters vociferously backing their players, which led to the local supporters teasing them by trying to imitate Bengali phrases. The laughter generated was the only consolation in what was a very disappointing game.

The result of the match was very much on the horizon when the team sheet came out. Not including Hardycliff Nongbri in the first 11 was a colossal mistake, especially when Aiman Al-Hagri was also missing (he had left for Yemen because of his mother’s illness). What this meant was that there was no balance to the midfield.

The way a two-man Bagan midfield dominated a three-man Lajong midfield was embarrassing but also underlined how important Hardy is to this team. Lalrohlua is a neat footballer who likes to have the ball at his feet and circulate it around the field. But he is not a workhorse who can ran up and down the field harassing the opposition players. With Samuel Lalmuanpuia not having the physicality nor the attitude to help out in defensive duties the entire onus of holding the midfield was on Daniel Odafin. But if Odafin decides to press higher in order to prevent the Bagan midfield from coming into his half he leaves the back line exposed. If he doesn’t he runs the risk of being swamped in his own half (he chose the latter in the hope that collective defence might be enough to thwart Bagan’s attacks).

Understanding this Bagan kept working on the flanks where Novin Gurung’s tentativeness led to a series of events culminating in the first goal. He was of course not helped by Lalrohlua’s lack of support. Alison Kharsyntiew has been with this team for a long time now.

More importantly, he knows this group of players very well – this means he understands their strengths and weaknesses. Putting a team out with only one holding midfielder was a big mistake. Maybe he had asked Lalrohlua to do the same but he should know that he cannot perform that role. This is not a junior-age tournament. Even in the Shillong Premier League, teams like Langsning and Rangdajied would have torn this midfield to pieces.

In spite of their poor form this season, Mohan Bagan are a top team with very good players. Having known that Yuta Kinowaki was back and would play alongside Cameron Watson, Alison’s decision to drop Hardy for such an important game was a big mistake. In an online discussion, a Lajong supporter expressed the opinion that Hardy should play the No. 10 role. Although I agree with him, I don’t think he can do that this season.

If Hardy plays upfront at the tip of the diamond there is no other player in the team who can perform the role he is doing right now. This leaves the team completely unbalanced as was evident in this match.

Neither Samuela or Lalrohlua have the defensive aptitude or the attitude to play in his position. Also to be fair, Samuela does bring a little more unpredictability in his current role that can sometimes be advantageous for the team. His lack of physicality and unwillingness to help the defence, however, is a worry.

If Lajong can get a player like Yuta net year, then Hardy can then play as a No. 10 and provide competition for Samuela in that position. This will be better for the team as well as both the players who will know that they have to work hard for the team if they want to play regularly. It will only make them better players. Without competition a player is not going to get better.

This applies for both the Indian as well as foreign players. But in the case of Lajong it seems to apply only to Indian players. Lajong’s strikers, as Alison admitted in the post-match press conference, did not perform to expectations. For those who were in the stadium that was already evident by the second quarter of the game.

Read more from Bhogto on SLFC’s foreigners’ non-performance

Alison stood on the touchline for almost the whole game but never looked in the mood to replace even one of them. Saihou Jagne could have been replaced by Alen Deory whose best position is upfront. He would have replicated the role that Jagne was performing – holding the ball and bringing other players into the game. Maybe the coach thought that a change of tactics rather than personnel was required. Then he could have replaced either Jagne or Abdoulaye Koffi with Redeem Tlang (a more mobile player). Or he could have removed both the foreigners and let Redeem and Deory play together.

Why neither of these options were taken, in my opinion, can be attributed to two reasons: the first is that he didn’t want to change tactics but did not trust Deory to perform the role he wanted. In the coach’s defence it has to be admitted that Deory has lost a bit of form after beginning the season well.

In that situation, Shaiborlang Kharpan’s exclusion from the squad is surprising. He is a physical player who can perform in that role. He has made only one start this season, which was in the victory against Aizawl FC in which he had a big role to play. He has been a part of the last three I-League squads but has never got a sustained run of opportunities to establish himself.

The Indian national team has got two established strikers in the form of Jeje Lalpeklhua and Sunil Chettri with Balwant Singh beginning to become a more reliable alternative. None of them have the physique to play as a traditional No. 9, which might explain the 4-4-2 system adopted by the India coach in almost all the matches. Sumit Passi got some opportunities but has not been able to impress while default player Robin Singh has been very inconsistent.

Shaibor is nowhere near ready to be called for the India camp. But at the same time, he is not going to be ready by not playing. Shaibor is at the right age to play regular football. Therefore I feel that he should change clubs at the end of the season. He was once a part of the Indian team set-up (U-19) and if he wants to get back there he has to play regularly. The club should help him to find a better club (a loan move outside the state) if they want Shaibor to ever have a chance to fulfill his potential. But if they are keeping him only the satisfy the supporters’ desire to have local players on their roster, it would be very unfair on the player.

Also I thought that was over with Thangboi Singto leaving the club. Did the club also not have a press conference (when supporters were dwindling) where they reiterated that they had helped developed local players? I agree. Shaibor is one of them. Sheen Sohktung is another local lad who played an important role in the victory against the Indian Arrows. Kynsailang Khongsit (although he came from Wahingdoh) has always performed when he was given the chance. But why aren’t they playing regularly? Niewkor Kyndiah was a future captain of the team but never got the opportunity while others less solid than him got the opportunity. He now plays for Rangdajied.

Whether it is clubs from Goa, Kolkata and now Mizoram and Manipur, they have always had a strong core of local players. Lajong are the only team from a state with a strong footballing tradition where the local players are second choice. This was evident in all the years that Thangboi was at the helm where good players from Meghalaya were continuously ignored or, if selected, never played.

I thought that this season was a new beginning with him gone. But it seems that Thangboi was innocent and it is the club hierarchy who actually wants to practise this policy. Like I accused them in one of my rants on their Facebook page, it was a policy for selling more T-shirts (I have to admit I had bought one of them).

Coming back (I digressed) the second reason why Alison didn’t make any change was maybe because he didn’t want to take the risk of removing the foreigners. I feel Allison will become a better coach with time. But he is not doing the team any favours by being afraid to make strong decisions.

In the next few matches, if Lajong do not come out of this situation, make no mistake, they will be relegated. Churchill Brothers are getting stronger with every match while Chennai City are slowing but steadily accumulating points. The players he has can do the job but he needs to select the right players and inculcate the right mentality. Any mistake from now on will cost the team dearly.

(TSR photo)

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