Super fan Bhogtoram Mawroh is back with his views on the Shillong Premier League after watching yesterday’s match between defending champions Langsning and Shillong Lajong

There was a time when I was using my PhD scholarship to buy tickets for football matches. Those days it was financially quite tight and there were times when I missed games because I had no money. Now I have bought a season ticket but because of office work I cannot make it for all the games.

So, now every game that I can make it to is a lucky break and if one gets to watch high quality matches like that between Langsning and Lajong it is icing on the cake.

After their Second Division League participation I knew that Langsning would only grow stronger. To see the way they played, with swagger and style, was therefore not very surprising. Bah Hering Shangpliang is a good coach and he always sets up his teams very well.

Yesterday was no different.

Langsning played a high line and pressed Lajong very aggressively. They were quicker and more alert than their opponents, with players providing options and eager to run behind Lajong’s defence.

This was exemplified by the way Kitboklang Pale played.

When attacking Kitbok was one of the players furthest up the pitch but while defending or trying to release the pressure he would provide an extra option in the midfield. In this way Langsning overloaded the Lajong midfield, thus negating the good ball players that Lajong had.

Once they had the ball they attacked with speed, pushing Lajong’s back line towards their own goal. The first two goals that were scored in the first half were the result of Langsning’s high pressing game.

In fact Langsning outplayed Lajong for the majority of first half. This was also because they were allowed to do so. Lajong started well in the first half and looked the better team for the first few minutes but as the half progressed Langsning grew in confidence.

They didn’t allow Lajong’s midfielders a lot of time on the ball. But at the same time when Lajong players lost the ball there was not enough desire to win it back. In a tight game like this the amount of space and time Fullmoon Mukhim and Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait were allowed with the ball was criminal.

In fact Lajong’s tepidness and Langsning’s adventure was the story of the first half. Alison Kharsyntiew recognised the problem and in the second half asked his players to be more aggressive. This worked well with Lajong playing a much better game. The goal they scored was a combination of a mistake by Restom Khriam and their more proactive approach.

This is one way in which this Langsning team can be stopped. Also, with Langsning playing a high line there was a lot of space which was on offer behind the defence. Lajong were in fact able to put some pressure on Langsning when they attacked on the counter.

Langsning’s high line is a very important feature of their tactics. It allows them to squeeze the playing area by not allowing the opposition players any space. And when they have the ball they have fast runners who can create a lot of problems from both wings. No wonder Kitbok thrives in this system.

The one area where both the teams suffered was the lack of a playmaker. Both sides have good midfielders who like giving quick passes and moving forward to join the attack. In particular Ronaldkydon is somebody who has a very big future ahead of him. With Fullmoon’s solidity he will only get better with time. He, however, cannot make long passes to stretch the defence. Short passes and clever movements are his forte. This, though, is the same with midfielders from the other teams as well. Either they don’t want to release the ball, like it was during the Sawmer vs Nangkiew Irat game, or they play quick, short passes like in this game.

For me there is only one player who can play a long accurate diagonal ball to the wide players in this league. Hardycliff Nongbri is the only player who can not only play short passes but can also play the ball behind the defence, allowing the wide attackers to get into dangerous positions.

With a team like Langsning playing a high line and their wingers really close to the opposition’s box, an accurate long pass to wide players can be an effective tactic. In fact come to think of it, how many Indian players in the I-League and ISL can play a long diagonal pass with enough accuracy to create problems? Even the good players play the pass in front of the defence but not behind it.

During the last I-League season Hardy had extra defensive duties because of the lack of effort from some players. It is, however, important that this year Alison must think of a system where Hardy’s defensive responsibilities are reduced, allowing him to dictate the game. This will bring out the best in him and with it maybe a call to the India probables list (I hope).

A three-man midfield, with someone like Phrangki Buam, who is willing to work hard for the team, can be a good choice. After having a tremendous U-18 Youth League campaign Phrangki is doing very well in this SPL season as well. I am sure that by the time the season is over he will have scored a few more goals. Some might argue that he is too young but there were young players in the past that Lajong gave adequate opportunities to establish themselves in this team. Why should it not be same for Phrangki as well? And if he does get the opportunity I hope that he can play with the same flair and grit that he has showed till now.

Though I have not been able to watch any of Rangdajied United matches, I think Langsning have the best chance to win the trophy. This is because they have a very confident team with brilliant players and an astute coach like Bah Hering. For me he is tactically the best coach in the league.

With due respect to Meghalaya Police, Sawmer and Nangkiew Irat, Langsning, Lajong Rangdajied and Malki will make the semifinals.

However, for a team like Malki to reach to finals they will have to find a way to provide support to their lone foreign striker. Last year they were lucky to reach the semifinals (I thought MLP should have qualified instead) but this year that is a minimum.

Still, it will be a big problem from them to defeat the other top three teams (sorry to my friend who supports Malki).

I don’t know when I will get to watch another match but I hope the ones I am able to will be high quality games like the one I witnessed on Saturday.

(TSR photo)

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