Yes, there were mistakes made by the referee in the Rangdajied United-Malki SPL Eliminator match yesterday, but Bhogtoram Mawroh still feels Malki’s own mistakes cost them the game.

I was not sure whether I should write about this match (Rangdajied United vs Malki) in light of what happened on the pitch yesterday.

The game was a disgrace and this was not just because of the bottle-throwing or the manhandling of the referee in the end. These were highly reprehensible incidents which could have been prevented.

Malki have some of the most passionate supporters in the SPL. You know when Malki are playing by the noise that their supporters make. But in moments of excitement they have been known to overstep the bounds and this is something that the organisers should have taken into consideration during such a crucial match. A simple gate check for bottles or other dangerous objects would have sufficient to prevent most of the problems.

The SSA has been in the wrong quite a few times this season and this is another low point. This is quite unfortunate because there is genuine competition on the pitch and there have been some tremendous games that were a treat to watch. But, while we must absolutely blame the unruly mob who took to violence, we also have to introspect on what happened before all that.

The refereeing was atrocious to say the least. This is something not alien to Indian football and even the Indian Super League is not immune to it. However, what can be said with absolute certainty is that Malki was at the receiving end of some bad refereeing for most of the match. A push on Malki’s striker Joseph Seun by Mebankhraw Wahlang in the box would have been deemed a foul if it happened on any other part of the pitch. I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the referee because it was a very tricky decision to make. If he had given the foul it would have meant a penalty. There would have been some protest from Rangdajied’s bench but in the final analysis people would have accepted it to be a correct decision.

A penalty in such a crucial match would have been game-changing and therefore the referee hesitated. But when the referee later had Joseph sent off during Malki’s period of ascendancy that also was game-changing.

And then there was the free-kick which Malki won near the penalty box after Marlangki Suting was bundled down by Rangdajied’s defenders. Instead of giving the kick from the right spot, the referee took the ball a few yards behind. Even I shouted from the stands at this shocking decision. Everyone saw where the foul was committed except maybe the referee. These extra few yards could have made the difference.

Ronnie Nongbri may not have been very effective in winning the midfield battles during the whole season but he has been very good with long-range shots scoring some spectacular goals. Who is to say he might not have scored a goal if the free-kick was taken from the correct position?

In a nutshell the referee had done enough to rile the supporters, who, to be honest, don’t need a lot of provocation. But did the refereeing mistakes cost Malki the game? The answer is an emphatic No!

Yes, they were hard done by with some absolutely dreadful decisions but they conceded their goals because of some silly individual mistakes.

I thought Malki suffered in their team selection. Vinici Darlong should have played in the centre of defence. He is a better defender with the ability to take the ball out of defence and create attacks. In set-piece situations he could be real handy. Primrose Lamat not being in the team was shocker unless he was unfit. Primrose did have a lot of bandage on his thigh during the entire season. So, he was probably not fit for the game.

Still, Malki played stoutly and would have possibly won the game if those mistakes had not been made. Though in the final analysis Malki lost because of their own mistakes, I would not like to see the same referee for the next two matches. He must be shaken because of the incident and he needs time to gather himself. In any case, based on yesterday’s performance on the pitch, I wouldn’t want him to referee in any games for the foreseeable future.

Rangdajied’s defence did their job and kept out most of the attacks by Malki. Yes, they were lucky on a few occasions especially when Ousseynou Kamara was not able to score from close range. Instead of placing the ball he should have smashed it. Padam Chettri again showed his worth to the team with a very good save from close range off a Ronnie shot. I like him a lot. He is a very good goalkeeper.

Atlanson Kharmaw was very solid and was hard to beat in one-to-one situations. Some of his deliveries were also very good and he also provided support from the wide areas. Except for the push from Mebankhraw, which could have resulted in a penalty, the defence did okay.

But it is further up the pitch where Rangdajied’s problems lay. The midfield and the attackers did a good job in retaining possession and passing the ball around. But, to be honest, Malki weren’t really pressing them. Still, they looked really comfortable with the ball. For all the possession, though, they couldn’t create a lot of chances.

For me, there were two main reasons for that. The most important reason is that Rangdajied lack a playmaker. From the games that I have watched there is no one in this team who can dribble past defenders and lay a ball for the strikers. There is no one in the team who can play through balls or give a punt behind the defence to create goal-scoring chances.

To be fair, a team like England, who made it to the semifinal of the World Cup, didn’t have a creative midfielder and that’s why they lost against Croatia, who had a Luka Modric. This is also the reason why Rangdajied have scored fewer goals than other teams in the top four (as I am told), simply because they haven’t created enough.

Rangdajied midfielders seem more intent on passing the ball square or back and looking for opportunities to run behind the defence rather than creating chances for others. One way of compensating for the lack of a true creative midfielder is to have good understanding between the midfielders who play forward passes to the forward players who make clever runs into spaces stretching the defence.

Rangdajied’s forward line was very static with none of the strikers really trying to pull the defence. Even when Samson Nongrum was making diagonal runs it was in the hope of attracting the attention of the midfielders to play a ball for him. The understanding and combination play between the midfielders and the three strikers was very much lacking.

Not having a true creative midfielder and the forward line and midfield not being in sync with each other is the reason why they might struggle against Shillong Lajong, who are a better drilled side in that respect.

At the same time the way Lajong play could turn those weaknesses into their strength. If they can play compact and not allow Lajong to make runs into the box from wide areas they could catch the opposition with quick counterattacks. For that they have the right personnel with Wanlamsuk Nongkhlaw, Samson, Reson Malngiang and Chanmetre Thma capable of leading the charge during such breaks.

The long diagonal pass that Ambilstar Sun played to Samson in the early part of the game is the exact tactic that can bring them success against Lajong. Still, it will be a tough task with Lajong wounded and looking to bounce back after the defeat against Langsning.

My only hope is that that game should be ruined by another horrendous refereeing display. But more important than the game – it is still a game – whatever happens on the football pitch must be solved in a footballing manner. There is no place for violence in this game, either inside or from outside the game. If we cannot prevent it then we should close down the stadium and not play anymore. It is not worth it.

(TSR photo)

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