They might be destined to finish the league stage of SPL 2018 in third place, but Bhogtoram Mawroh will not count Rangdajied United out from making it to the final and even taking the title this season. 

I have not watched all of Rangdajied’s matches but what I saw on Saturday gave me great hope for the team, not just for the remainder of the season but the next one as well.

On Saturday they looked like a team with a mission and the way they went about their business on the pitch was great to watch. Langsning played with an attacking 3-4-3, while Rangdajied went with a more conventional 4-3-3. The formation meant that while Langsning had an extra central defender they lost a midfielder in the process. And this was very much evident in the way Ebormi Buam and Fullmoon Mukhim were outnumbered and lost most of their midfield battles.

Still, the three midfielders from Rangdajied had to do their work and they did it very admirably. They pressed together and didn’t allow much time to either Ebormi or Fullmoon. After winning the midfield battles they used their wings to get behind the defence and attacked in numbers. Rangdajied did to Langsning what Langsning do to other teams.

For all the chances they created Rangdajied should have scored at least a couple of goals. If anything this is going to be their Achilles heel in crucial matches like the semifinals or the final.

At times like this they need someone like Samson Nongrum to raise his hand and be the one who scores goals. Samson has been a very consistent player for all these years and someone I believe should have got his chance with Shillong Lajong when they were still signing players outside the academy. Even now they are still signing players who did not begin in their academy but they are all younger. So, they can make the case that players like him are too old.

This is where one wishes that a team like Langsning are in the I-League because players like him will definitely get their chances. The same happened with local coaches as well.

Coaches like Bah Hering Shangpliang and Khlain Syiemlieh had helped their teams to qualify for the I-League, Lajong and Rangdajied respectively. But when the time came for them to lead their teams in the I-League they were not given the chance.

I don’t know whether Khlain had an issue like Alison Kharsyntiew, who doesn’t have the license to coach in the I-League, but Bah Hering had been with the Indian junior team and he was perfectly capable of leading Lajong.

And I am sure that if he had been with Lajong they would not have been in relegation battles, which they often found themselves in, and players like Redeem Tlang, who is doing very well now, would have been a full Indian international now. Aiborlang Khongjee and Eugeneson Lyngdoh would not have needed to move out of Lajong to make their India debut. Most importantly, the pain of watching local players sidelined would have not been there.

Bah Hering finally got his chance when Rangdajied were in trouble in the I-League 2013-14 season and he got them out as well. In the games where he was in charge the attack started with the goalkeeper passing the ball to Restom Khriam, who was playing as the right fullback. Restom would then take the ball forward and pass to Ranti Martins, who scored the goals.

More than anyone Bah Hering deserves his chance at the higher level. But in Saturday’s match it was Khlain who got the better of his more senior counterpart. He outmanoeuvred Bah Hering and if the forward line had been more clinical he could have got a win.

Having been with Rangdajied for a long time Khlain has always been able to put up strong teams who always compete for the title. Having won the trophy before there is a chance Rangdajied could win one again very soon.

The foundation for a winning team is already there: their defence. At the back Rangdajied have a strong central defence pairing of Mebankhraw Wahlang and Ambilstar Sun. One is very experienced while the other is very solid. On the left there is Ksankupar Khongmalai and on the right is Atlanson Kharmaw.

I remember the first time I saw Atlanson. It was in the First Division when I saw him sitting in the stands during one of Imson’s match. It was 2013, the year Lajong won the First Division after their relegation from the SPL. Watching him even then one could tell he was going to be a very good player.

Then I saw him captaining Rangdajied’s U-19 team as they lost the trophy to Lajong. He got his opportunity in the senior team and has never looked back since. He is a good footballer and will only get better. The only side of his game that I would like him to work on is his discipline. To be honest, I expected him to be sent off at least once this season. Last year he got sent off in the game against Langsning with Fullmoon also getting marching orders for kicking Atlanson in the head.

What if he gets sent off in the semifinal or the final? That would put his team under pressure and could prove very decisive in terms of the final outcome. If Atlanson can sort out his aggression and channel it properly he will only get better.

When Ksankupar came to Rangdajied from Lajong I expected him to play in the wings or as one of the strikers. One could always tell that when he was at Lajong he was good with his feet and was very quick. But when he transitioned into the left back role I wasn’t really sure that he could be solid as well. But he has been that and his deliveries into the box are a great asset. His free-kicks on Saturday, though, were very disappointing.

And then you have Padam Chettri as the goalkeeper who is very good. His save at point-black range against Nangkiew Irat was particularly very impressive. After having played a couple of seasons together, this back four will only get stronger. And from the energy and desire that was seen from the rest of the team Khlain can build a very strong team.

The only drawback that Rangdajied have is that the attack is not as potent as it should be for a team of its stature. Rectifying that and coaxing match-winning performances from someone like Samson will be Khlain’s biggest challenge. And if he can do it he will have a team that can compete and win trophies.

The greatest strength that I find in Bah Hering apart from his tactical acumen is his ability to improve players and get the best out of them. All of Langsning’s players are a testament to that. To Khlain’s credit, he has also done that. When the Meghalaya team won the U-17 trophy the players credited him for it.

For Langsning Saturday was a good match from which they can learn some very important lessons, the most important being that if you don’t start well you will eventually struggle the whole match. Also a back four might be more suitable for the team. But most crucially there was a lack of energy at the start, which is normally seen in this team.

They had their moments, though, and Ebormi could have scored the winner as well. But it would have been cruel for Rangdajied, who played very well.

In fact it was Frolicson who kept Langsning in the game. Like Padam he has been making many great saves for his team. There are certain things, though, which he can improve on. He is a bit tentative with the high balls, especially when there is pressure on him, and when he made a save in the second half the ball didn’t travel very far. For me he needs to get stronger and be more aggressive in his box.

As the weather gets colder the SPL is becoming warmer. Malki might still make the semifinals and that would be very lucky for them. I still think that Langsning are the favourites, though. Even on Saturday when they were outplayed for the most part by Rangadjied, they had their moments and they could have still won the match.

Most importantly the defence didn’t get breached. Lajong will always push them but after Saturday’s performance you cannot discount Rangdajied as well. So, I’m hoping for a great finale to a wonderful SPL season. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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