Bhogtoram Mawroh shares his thoughts on Shillong Lajong’s final match of the I-League season, while also expressing his hopes for Langsning in the Second Division. He can’t avoid a comment on Meghalaya politics, either, by the way…

The game against East Bengal and the performance that followed came at the right time.

There is a price for almost everything but “almost” is the key word here. There are certain things that are non-negotiable and losing them will mean that we cease to exist as a people. In a couple of months we will know how much of our land, culture and way of life is going to be auctioned by our spineless representatives. I can assure you that it is going to happen very soon.

Spineless is the opposite of how I would describe the performance of Lajong’s players. They were brave and fought to the very end for the team. In the first half, though, they looked very tentative. They allowed East Bengal to grow into the game and the manner in which they kept losing the second ball was very worrying.

I have always been critical of the way how Lajong begin the game. During away games, the need to be cautious is understandable but at home they have to start more aggressively. It was only after the goal was scored against them that the team began to take the initiative.

However, fluidity was lacking in the midfield, which made it difficult to penetrate East Bengal’s defence. This lack of fluidity was because of way the players were moving (or not moving) on the pitch. Lajong were playing very narrowly when they had the ball and that meant that they didn’t have any space to operate.

This has been a feature of Lajong’s game in the past matches as well. Instead of spreading out and running into spaces, the players would gather around the same area vying for the ball. It makes defending very easy for the opposition because they can easily close any outlet since Lajong are all cramped in a small space. In spite of this, a few moments of brilliance saw Redeem Tlang and Samuel Lalmuanpuia almost getting on the score sheet. But a lack of fluidity was a big letdown in the first half.

This changed in the second half when the formation was changed from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system. Daniel Odafin’s influence in the game grew not just in terms of shielding the back line but also in initiating the moves forward as well. He, for one, has been one of the most consistent players for Lajong this season.

There is, however, a side to his game that I find very amusing. This is the fourth time (if I remember correctly) that I have seen him going to ground and signaling for a substitution. On two occasions there were no more substitutions remaining to the team. Seeing him get back to the field always fills me not only with relief but a chuckle as well.

Odafin’s role in the team allows the other midfielders – Hardycliff Nongbri, Samuela and Redeem to express. I hope he is still there in the next season.

The other player who had a great game was Samuela. For me, this was Samuela’s best game. It was not his attacking play but his eagerness to fight for any half chances that really impressed me.

He has always been a good player when attacking but it was his attitude towards defending for the team that irked me in the past. But in this match he was putting his body on the line for the team. Physically he still has a long way to go but attitude-wise it was big step up for him. He could have easily won the man-of-the-match award.

Us fans want to see our players fight for the shirt and the city that they represent. When that doesn’t happen we don’t forget nor forgive. I will not repeat here what I said in the stadium after Abdoulaye Koffi missed that chance when Samuela fed him a great ball. His miss represents everything that has not worked for Lajong this season.

Redeem, on the other hand, had a very strange game. He started well but started to fade in the second half. I was surprised he was still on the pitch for so long. For me he was the prime candidate to be substituted. But in the closing stages he got behind the defence and played a great ball, which Samuela could not get to in time.

This is what Redeem can give you, a moment of brilliance. But the match was also dotted with his lack of strength in holding the ball and poor body language on occasions. That has been one his problems and the coaching staff have to be constantly wary of this side of his game.

As for the goals conceded, Kenstar Kharshong was guilty on both occasions. To be more accurate, he was caught ball-watching and not reacting to the situation. Granted, both crosses were out of his reach, but he didn’t do enough to distract the attacker. If he had made an attempt to jump towards the ball, it might have blocked the line of sight and made it difficult to get a clean header. But since he did nothing Dudu got easy headers and scored from them.

Even before the second goal Kenstar had been caught in no-man’s land. The lack of reaction was on display from other players in the last few games as well. Rakesh Pradhan was ball-watching in the third goal against Minerva Punjab and Aiban Dohling didn’t react quickly enough for Aizawl’s solitary goal.

The I-League is a notch higher than age-group tournaments or the Shillong Premier League. The young defenders need to start reacting better to situations in the future. By reflecting on the mistakes they have made they will only get better. Aiban, Kenstar and especially Pradhan may receive offers from the ISL clubs very soon, but I would advise them to give at least one more year to the club. At their age they need regular time on the pitch to improve their game. Playing practice matches for ISL teams is not going to give them that. One more year and maybe they can move on.

Another player who I feel should be tied to Lajong for another year is Nidhin Lal. He has looked commanding in the air and I feel very comfortable when I see him organising the defence for any set-piece or corners. He deservedly won the man-of-the-match award and was a contender during the last match as well.

The only criticism I have of his game is that he doesn’t punch the ball far enough. He stops the ball but doesn’t push it away from the danger area. The goal in the last match was because of this and Aiban has bailed him out twice with last ditch tackles in the last two games. He has to push the ball away from the danger area if he cannot catch it. This is one thing he has to improve on for me.

Lajong have always been able to recruit good goalkeepers, whether it was TP Rehenesh or Vishal Kaith. Nidhin Lal could be that next goalkeeper.

Meanwhile, watching Bah Hering Shangpliang presenting the man-of-the-match award might be an indication of his role in Langsning’s attempt to qualify for the I-League. I have always been a fan of how he organises his team and I am hoping to see Langsning put in a strong performance in the 2nd Division I-League as well.

This competition will only help Lajong raise their game and at the same time provide more local players with the opportunity to shine on the national stage. I wish Langsning all the best. As for Lajong, it was a performance to be proud of and I hope we can have more of these in the Super Cup as well.

(TSR photo)

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