It’s been a rough old I-League season for fans and players of Shillong Lajong, but Bhogtoram Mawroh has seen some great performances from players like Phrangki Buam, but he feels a change of tactics is needed for the team to improve.

The 6-1 loss against Real Kashmir exposed the problems of playing with a young and inexperienced team. After giving a good fight to NEROCA at home, the heavy margin of defeat against Real Kashmir was not very surprising.

Inconsistency is a very common trait among young players and their performance can fluctuate from brilliant to disappointing very quickly. This is because they are not only learning about the game but also about handling the emotions away from the pitch as well. The exhilaration of a great performance to the dejection of a heartbreaking loss: all these emotions affect young players most acutely. Therefore, no matter how talented youngsters might be, it is highly risky to play them all together.

It is therefore not a mystery why Lajong are struggling this season. To make matters worse, Alison Kharsyntiew’s team selections and tactics have been highly questionable, raising doubts about whether he is the right person to lead the team to safety. But whatever happens this season, this young team deserve all respect for being brave enough to step onto the pitch and give their all to rectify the mistakes made by others. They may ultimately fail but no blame can be attached to them for giving their all for the cause of their team.

Having said that, there are some who have shone more brilliantly than others and have given a glimpse of the immense future that lies ahead of them. Very early in the game there was one particular Lajong player who felt the full brunt of the aggression and physicality of the Real Kashmir players. Phrangki Buam was at the receiving end of very rough treatment from the opposition. Real Kashmir had identified him to be the main threat and decided to intimidate him into submission.

This special attention is a great testament of what Phrangki has achieved till now. It is not yet the halfway mark in the season and Phrangki has already scored three goals. By the time the season ends he could very well be the highest Indian scorer for Lajong in their entire history for a single I-League season. The fact that he continued after a very difficult start also points to the strength of his character. Though still early, he is already a strong contender for the emerging player of the tournament.

In the initial matches Phrangki was playing in a more advanced position. Although he scored his goals from playing upfront, I prefer him in the midfield where he is playing right now. This allows Phrangki to arrive late in the box, making him more dangerous. However, I would invert the shape from a 4-1-2-3 to a 4-2-1-3 system with Phrangki at the tip of the midfield diamond. In this position he could play the link-up role that Ebormi Buam does so well for Langsning. But this will mean that there will have to be some alterations in the tactics of the team. Lajong have not played with a proper striker because of a lack of a physical presence upfront.

It was for this reason I had Parvaj Bhuiya in my first XI. He does a good job in holding the ball and annoying the defence very well. Without a player like him, Lajong have tried to play with a false 9 in Samuel Lalmuanpuia. However, this tactic has not worked till now and it is highly unlikely that it will do so in future. Lajong need to have someone putting pressure on the central defenders at all times. This is something that Donlad Diengdoh did very well for Langsning. He didn’t score many goals but worked very hard for the team stretching the defence and allowing someone like Kitboklang Pale to run behind the defence. Bansharai Sun from Rangdajied United played the role of a front man very well in the Shillong Premier League semifinal match against Lajong.

The question is whether Samuela has the discipline to play that role? I suspect Samuela wants to play as the number 10. But because of a lack of true striker he has been forced to play as the false 9, a position which is not his best for this team. I prefer him staying upfront waiting for balls to be fed to him, which he can dispatch past the goalkeeper. But whenever he does not get the ball he comes too deep, for my liking. He has to play as a pure striker. Let players like Hardycliff Nongbri, Phrangki, Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi and Kitbok create the chances for him.

Although Lajong lost the game by a big margin, Hardy’s inclusion in the team was a big positive for me. Hardy is an upgrade to any midfielder they have in their team and I don’t want to speculate about the reasons for his not playing from the beginning. Suffice to say, I would have sacked the coach if I were the owner of the club. The Minerva Punjab game where Lajong lost their two-goal advantage was exactly the situation where the class and calmness of Hardy would have come really handy. He can play as the box-to-box midfielder or as one of the holding midfielders who can create from deep-lying positions.

In this team I want him play as one of the two holding midfielders and shield the defence. At the same time, the long passes he makes can stretch the defence, allowing players like Kitbok to get behind and either create chances for someone like Samuela or score on his own.

Kitbok came on in the second half and showed his class. His touch and vision are the hallmark of a great player. He was a notch above the rest and showed good teamwork with the other attackers. Like he demonstrated in the SPL, he didn’t hold the ball for too long but passed it to other players who were in more attacking positions. He also had a couple of shots at the goal which could have resulted in a goal. One wonders what would have happened if Kitbok and Hardy had been playing for Lajong from the very beginning.

One brings leadership to the midfield while the other brings guile and potency to the attack. Lajong may not have climbed to the top of the league but they wouldn’t be at the bottom as well.

This finally brings me to Alison, who has been inexplicable in his team selection and tactics. Last year it was the foreign players and Nidhin Lal who saved Lajong from relegation. This year there is no one. If it was any other professional team they would have changed the coach by now. If things don’t change soon that may very well happen. If that happens I would request the management to bring in Bah Hering Shangpliang as the head coach.

He knows the players and the Indian game very well, having been a part of the national set-up and having managed in the I-League before. Bah Hering is shoulders above Alison anytime and, provided they bring him early, Lajong may yet survive. Maybe he will bring Fullmoon Mukhim with him who can partner Hardy in the middle of the pitch.

The season till now has been difficult but the players cannot give up now. When you are at the bottom the only way is up. Like I said in the beginning, whatever happens I will not attribute any blame to the players. They are doing the best they can. With Langsning not taking part in this year’s Second Division League this might be the last season for Shillong to witness I-League matches. Personally I am content with SPL with my craving for top flight football satisfied by the English Premier League and Bundesliga. But for the young, local players it will mean a great loss of opportunity. So I hope that Lajong (for the sake of the players) survive for another season. All the best!

(TSR file photo)

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