Bhogtoram Mawroh has been pretty positive about Rangdajied United’s chances in this season’s SPL, but with their exit yesterday to Shillong Lajong, he’s come to the conclusion that they need to find a spark next season to challenge SLFC and Langsning and end their title drought.

Rangdajied United have been a powerhouse of Meghalaya football for years. In recent times they have come close to winning the Shillong Premier League title a few times. But they have always been found wanting at crucial moments. Yesterday that story was repeated. This is really disappointing because they looked a better team than Shillong Lajong for most of the match.

It was only when the first goal was scored that Lajong starting coming into the game. Till then Rangdajied were moving the ball really well with the fullbacks and wide players from both the right and left flanks combining to create a lot of chances for the team. While Samson Nongrum looked quick and sharp from the left flank, Chanmetre Thma played very well on the right side of the midfield. Upfront Bansharai Sun held the ball really well and laid it for the other advancing players.

Rangdajied also won most of the midfield battles in which they were helped by some very poor first touches from Lajong’s players. They pressed higher and there were some close offside calls with a goal being disallowed. However, with Rangdajied unable to take their opportunities Lajong had the upper hand. And eventually when Lajong scored it was always going to be tough for Rangdajied to make a comeback. The second goal killed the game for all intents and purposes. There was a goal in the last 15 minutes for Rangdajied by Belton Lartang but it was a too late by then.

Goal scoring has been a problem for Rangdajied this season and yesterday it was this lack of potency at the top end of the pitch that cost them their spot in the final. Even the goals that Rangdajied scored in the match against Malki were because of the individual mistakes committed by the opposition. Samson did play a great low cross which was met by Thma at the far post but the opportunity was created by Malki’s defender missing his kick. The second goal was a very bad mistake by the goalkeeper which allowed Thma to calmly slot the ball into an empty net.

So, as long as Rangdajied’s players were unable to convert their chances you always felt that if Lajong scored they would win the match. And Lajong did score and win. They were, of course, helped by mistakes made by Rangdajied defenders. The goals were the result of overplaying the ball and not playing to the whistle. And, as I suspected, they couldn’t mount a comeback.

It was not as though Rangdajied did not try to rectify their goal scoring problems. While defending, the formation was 4-1-4-1, but during attack they pushed more numbers forward. There were at least two to three players attacking the ball whenever a ball was crossed into Lajong’s box. With the defenders not looking particularly comfortable dealing with crosses, it was a golden opportunity missed by Rangdajied.

But there is something more fundamental than mistakes or lack of a prolific striker which, for me, has been Rangdajied’s failing. They are reminiscent of what Tottenham were before Mauricio Pochettino joined the club and in some sense still are.

In an interview to The Guardian (a UK newspaper) in 2014 Roy Keane narrated an incident with Sir Alex Ferguson’s pre-match talk in a home game against Tottenham.

“I thought I knew what the group might need, that we didn’t need a big team talk,” said Keane. “It was Tottenham at home. I thought please don’t go on about Tottenham, we all know what Tottenham is about, they are nice and tidy but we’ll fucking do them. He came in and said: ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’, and that was it. Brilliant.”

Rangdajied are in danger of becoming a Tottenham Hotspur.

I might be wrong but I sense a lack of desperation and hunger from a team that has won the Shillong Premier League just once in the last eight years. Rangdajied have seen Lajong restructure and win the SPL thrice. Last year Langsning won the trophy as the underdogs while this year they are firm favourites.

If Langsning win this year as well, which I think they will, they will remain champions for at least another couple of seasons. Rangdajied, then, might have to wait longer for their title. The year they won the SPL trophy Rangdajied had an I-League team with the final against Malki being very one-sided.

However, things have changed since then and they don’t look anywhere close to beating the top two teams in the SPL. It is not that they have a bad squad. But somehow there is a spark that is missing, which is evident in the way they huffed and puffed their way through the whole SPL season to the eventual loss to Lajong in this second qualifier.

If one watches Lajong play, at least in the SPL, they will say it is a very well-drilled team, who don’t lower their standards often and are technically and tactically adept. In the case of Langsning anyone watching them will marvel at their teamwork, ferocity and resoluteness sprinkled with fabulous individual talents. Both these teams have an identity that makes them great to watch and difficult to beat.

Rangdajied, on the other, can be categorised as a “nice and tidy team” capable of beating sides that are lower than them but not ready to win against bigger opponents. That is not good enough. This is the reason why they have drawn or lost all their games to the top two this season.

However, as I have maintained earlier, the foundations for building a strong team are already there. Yesterday, despite the loss, I saw some more encouraging signs. Now they have to find a spark that can lift them from the stagnancy in which they find themselves.

A siege mentality or a gung-ho approach next season: what will Randadjied build their team on next season, only time will tell. For their sake I hope they do it soon or they’ll become like Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino has made Tottenham a strong force in the EPL and Europe but they have still not won a trophy. This year also they will not win any of those two. With Manchester City turning into the best team in the world and Liverpool as the most exciting one they could have another long wait.

(TSR photo)

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