Bhogtoram Mawroh sees quite a few positives that Lajong can take away after their game against Chennai City yesterday


After what had transpired in the previous few matches, the point against Chennai City should come as an absolute relief. When you are in a relegation battle it is very important that you do not lose against a team that is also fighting relegation. Lajong was able to do just that and, though a win would have been preferable, a draw is not a bad result.

However, on the balance of play, one has to admit that Chennai played better attacking football with wide players like Soosairaj giving a torrid time to Lajong’s defence. This was particularly worrying in the first half when Alen Deory was not tracking his man. I have always maintained that Deory’s best position is through the middle. But at the same time, you have to do your part in the position that you have been designated to play.

Playing in a 4-4-2 Deory completely neglected his defensive duties. So it was a pleasant surprise when Alison Kharsyntiew decided to bring him off even before the first half was over. It was a surprise because the coach reacted immediately to the game (something which I have accused him of not doing previously) and it was pleasant because it sends a strong message to the rest of the players. In fact, for me, all his substitutions were spot-on (even the one when he took off Shaiborlang Kharpan after bringing him in on for Abdoulaye Koffi).

Before I explain my support for his decisions, I would like to talk a little more about Deory. Deory’s lack of effort in the last few matches is a big worry not just for the team but for his own game as well. He was one of the unsold players in this year’s ISL draft. While it may have been disappointing for him, a look at his recent performances may give a hint as to why no team wanted him.

Except for Jeje Lalpeklhua, no ISL team has played an Indian striker through the middle (Robin Singh was played out of compulsion more than anything). Sunil Chettri, Balwant Singh and Len Doungel have all played as wide players. This means that apart from supporting the attack they also have to help in keeping the defensive shape of the team. If I recollect correctly, Deory was chastised for being overweight last season, meaning that there was a question mark about his willingness to put in a shift for the team last season as well. ISL teams may have looked at all of this and decided against getting a luxury player.

This is just my theory. But if this theory is correct then Samuel Lalmuanpuia needs to think about his game as well. On the face of it, one may assume that ISL teams may want him in their side. But what is the role that he will play in any of the ISL teams? In Lajong he plays just behind the striker. While he has looked effective in this role, he has constantly be found wanting in physical duels. Opposition players have time and again (even in this last match) easily out-muscled him for the ball. At the same time, he does not track back to help in defence. Even when he does he hardly puts in a tackle to win the ball.

If an ISL team buys him, can he replace any of the foreigners who are the playmakers in their respective team? So either he may be forced to spend most of his time on the bench or he will be asked to play as a wide player. In that position he will have to contribute in defence as well. At this point he is not ready to perform that role, not at least in an ISL team. While Deory was not tracking his man, Samuela was constantly drifting to the middle, leaving his side wide open and Rakesh Pradhan all alone. In the process both the wings were left unguarded. Therefore bringing in Kynsailang Khongsit, who can do defensive duties, and changing the shape of the team to a back three in the second half were correct decisions made by Alison in this match.

But if you are going to play a midfield three with Samuela as one of them, you have to play a player who can compensate for his lack of work rate. Hardycliff Nongbri is the one who does that for the team. He may not be the most physically imposing player but he is always working hard for the team. He lends steel and balance to the midfield, which is why it was a surprise that he was not included in the last two matches.

With time (maybe next season) I would like to see him play more balls through the channels and get more involved in attacking play. But for the time being he has to play the role he has right now.

Coming back to Samuela again, will an ISL team provide a cover player like Hardy for him? I doubt that, especially when they can play a foreigner instead. Samuela is a good player who can become one of the top in the country. This will, however, depend on how he develops his game going ahead. I wish him all the best for that.

The decision to take off Koffi and bring in Shaibor was (in the context of what has happened in the past) a brave decision and a right one. But the decision to take him off may have surprised some people. When he came in, Shaibor was easily dispossessed a couple of times in the first few minutes. After that he looked to have settled into the game and played a delightful ball for Saihou Jagne, which could have resulted in a goal. But the position from where he played the ball was the problem. He had drifted into the middle and was playing as an extra midfielder. That was not the task for which he was sent onto the field.

His job was to stay upfront and put Chennai’s back line under pressure. With Jagne playing in the middle he could have drifted to a wider position to create space for himself to receive forward passes. This would have had two effects. Firstly, one of the central defenders and the full back would have to follow him, thus releasing some pressure for Jagne and the midfield. If they didn’t he would have a free run into the box.

Secondly, when the ball is delivered into the middle he could make a diagonal run from the blind side of the defence, improving his chances to score. But because he kept tracking back his impact on the attacking third diminished. Alison’s decision to remove him was to send a message that he wants his players to perform the role that he has assigned them in the match. If they don’t do it he will take them off. He did this with Deory and Koffi. And therefore he had to do it with Shaibor as well.

In Shaibor’s defence he could argue that since he was not getting the service in the box he decided to drop deeper. He wouldn’t be the first player from Lajong to do that this season. Aiman Al-Hagri kept doing it every time he played. So Shaibor can accuse Alison of not being consistent with his decisions. Still, that does not make it wrong. But maybe there could have been another way of handling the situation. Shaibor has been kept out of the game for a long time and this was one of the rare chances he got to stake his claim.

Alison could have called him to the sideline and told him to stay upfront. His disappointment at being taken off indicated that that never happened (but since I was watching on TV I could be wrong). Let the midfielders create the chances. Shaibor’s job was to convert them. Or maybe Alison could have had a chat with Shaibor at the end of the game.

Notwithstanding my disappointment at Shaibor being removed from the game I understand the decision. If this is not a one-off instance when Allison decides to be proactive, Shaibor will get another chance to prove that he can be the main man upfront. And I hope he gets that chance sooner than later.

Coming to the defence, which got Lajong this point, Aiban Dohling’s tenacity has been a welcome change. With Laurence Doe not in the playing 11, all the defenders played stoutly. In this regard, Kenstar Kharshong’s performance deserves special mention. Except for the one Dejan Lovren moment, he won the aerial battles, took up good positions and didn’t allow the opposition attackers to get past him easily. He has taken his opportunity to play at the centre of defence with both hands and has been one of the most impressive players for the team.

The last two matches are home games and Lajong have to get at least one win from them. Let’s hope the team can do it and give us another season in top flight Indian football.

(Photo contributed by Shillong Lajong)

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