Shillong, Nov 29: It hasn’t been a great start for Shillong Lajong in I-League 2018-19, with just one win coming in their first six games.
We’ve all seen Lajong start a season shakily but not quite like this – prior to this campaign they had always managed to pick up at least two wins in their opening six matches.
Earlier on coach Alison Kharsyntiew had talked about a lack of finishing, but oddly enough Lajong have not been short of goals. They’ve scored eight in the six games, higher than their average of 6.38 over the previous eight seasons.
Prior to the draw with Minerva Punjab last Friday, where Lajong gave up a two-goal lead, Kharsyntiew switched his criticisms, shifting his focus to “silly mistakes” in defence.
And there lies the rub. Lajong have conceded 14 goals so far. Never have they ever conceded so many goals in the first six matches of an I-League season. In only one game this season have Lajong not been able to score, but, on the other hand, they’ve not been able to keep a single clean sheet.
Of course, clean sheets aren’t everything. Current leaders Chennai City have yet to keep a clean sheet, but the difference has been in their ability to score more goals than their opponents. Perhaps that’s the thinking behind Lajong’s move to bring in the attacking Kitboklang Pale on loan from Langsning, which the club confirmed on Wednesday.
To criticise Lajong’s defence doesn’t just mean their defenders. Kharsyntiew has pretty much gone with the same midfielders but they have given away the ball with annoying regularity.
The defenders have been chopped and changed a bit, with only Aiban Dohling making a start in every game, but we’ve seen on several occasions how their disadvantages in physicality mean that they’re easily shoved off the ball by opposing players.
In the goalkeeping department Neithovilie Chalieu has been favoured in five matches. TSR had also picked him as the more complete goalie over team mate Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, but in the Reds’ last outing against Minerva he was constantly coming out and flapping at the ball without much success.
But this is a statistical column, so let’s get back to statistics.
This start to the season may look like a bad one, but in a way Lajong are in the same position as they were last year, that is if last year’s matches had been played out in the same order as this year’s. Have a look at the table below.
Differences lie in the results when hosting East Bengal (a 2-2 draw last year, but 3-1 to the visitors this year) and Minerva Punjab (the eventual champions won 1-0 in 2017-18, but drew this time around).
NEROCA are up next for the Reds, at home this Sunday. Last year the team from Manipur won 1-0. So, even if Lajong lose again, they would still be in the same position as in 2017-18.
Of course, looking at it this way is really like comparing Lajong with Lajong. It doesn’t take into consideration the fact that teams like Gokulam Kerala, Churchill Brothers and Chennai City, who struggled last year, are doing well this season.
In his most recent write-up guest columnist Bhogtoram Mawroh was worried that SLFC could end up relegated at the end of the year. Lajong (four points) are only ahead in the points table of Indian Arrows (three points but with two games in hand), the development side that are exempt from relegation.
But the All India Football Federation has set a precedent of allowing clubs who technically should’ve been relegated to remain in the I-League if they finish above sides exempt from relegation. That was the case with Aizawl at the end of 2015-16 and Churchill Brothers last season. So, really, Lajong just have to avoid finishing below the Arrows, although Mawroh made an interesting comment when he said that, when it came to Aizawl and Churchill, both sides invested heavily in players – foreign and domestic – while Lajong haven’t. Sure, they’re making a big deal of their young, all-North Eastern squad that will develop players for the country, but, honestly, no one asked them to do this.
Lajong have never been a team that keep many clean sheets. In fact they’ve managed just 50 in 180 I-League matches. But they have to somehow find a way of denying opposition teams while keeping up the good work they’re doing in scoring goals. We hope they find the answer soon.