He wasn’t too thrilled about the venue – Third Ground has no seats for the public – but Bhogtoram Mawroh was impressed by the football on display in the U-18 Shillong Premier League match between Mawkhar and Nongrim Hills yesterday…

Once you get into a habit it’s really difficult to give it up. The U-18 SPL match between Mawkhar and Nongrim is symptomatic of the games that happen in the Shillong Premier League: a slow and tedious start in the first half transforming into a fast-paced frenzy in the second.

This game was also, for all intent and purposes, a game of the second half and I am waiting for the time when this trend changes. I believe that such a change is going to be beneficial not only for the fans but also the players.

Coming to the game itself, both teams started with almost identical formations: 4-3-2-1/4-3-3. The gameplan, though, was completely different. Nongrim focused more on attacking through the wide areas while Mawkhar kept plugging through the middle.

Mawkhar had Aenam Jyrwa in the middle of the park who displayed some very neat footwork. Having been part of the India youth setup his quality was for all to see but at the same time so were the deficiencies. Holding on to the ball for too long and wayward passing was also a feature of his game. He looked really good whenever he was on the ball but that was in many cases because the defenders were playing to his strength. Tricky players like Aenam want defenders to lunge at them, allowing them to use their skills to get past them. It will be difficult for them if the defenders stand their ground and keep the play in front of them. Then Aenam would have to find a key pass through a mass of bodies. This will force him to play a wrong pass or play it backwards, taking the ball away from the goal, exactly what the defence wants.

Aenam didn’t have a good first half but really blossomed in the second. What he did well when he was instrumental in creating a goal and scoring himself was run the channels. Coming from the midfield, he floated into the space between defenders and used his trickery to put the defence under pressure. However, when he had to play a pass, it was in most cases highly disappointing.

Football is a team game and if he wants to be a top professional, which I hope he becomes one day, he has to learn to bring others in the game, ie play a pass. He’s young, so he will get better.

Mawkhar kept the ball well but in many instances kept it for too long. On two occasions, overplaying almost led to goals on either side of the half.

There is so much debate in footballing circles about philosophy and heart. In recent times it might seem that the latter has won over the former. The victories of Liverpool and Tottenham over Barcelona and Ajax are being viewed as the triumph of pure desire over philosophy. Both the winning teams have been known to play good football but were not reluctant to change it when situation demanded. Now youth football is all about development and results should not matter. But at any level, winning always matters! If you play attractive football and win it’s great, but if you lose because of your own daftness then you are silly. Understanding the situation and adapting yourself to it is also a sign of maturity.

Mawkhar played with three attacking players who played very narrow and there was no width, especially on the left side. The right back was actually playing more as a central defender and therefore whenever the ball went to Fairly Star Suting he was outnumbered. That is not to say that he could not have done better when he had the ball. This, though, is something which can be said of many players in the game. Many of the missed chances can be put down to bad touches and wrong judgement.

Apart from Aenam, one player who could really do well with good decision making was Nongrim’s captain Phibankhrawbok Nongkhlaw. In the second half, Nongrim were mostly playing on the counter and at least on a couple of occasions Nongkhlaw missed the chance to release the attackers by holding on to the ball for too long. Making the right decision at the right time is what differentiates great players from good players. Playing as a wide attacker and occupying the central position whenever Wanbantei Lyngkhoi drifted wide (more on him later), Nongkhlaw looked really good. He kept trying to get the through ball but was unsuccessful. Many midfielders that I have seen in the SPL are good passers of the ball but don’t create many chances. Their game is mostly about arriving late into the box, shooting from distance and playing a square pass. But if you don’t take chances you will never improve as a player. Therefore, though he could have done better, the fact that Nongkhlaw kept trying to find a key pass means that he is brave. That is something which will make a better player in the future.

One thing which I liked about Mawkhar was their pressing. When they pressed they do it as a team and were aggressive even during throw-ins, not allowing any breathing space to the opposition. But whenever they tried to attack from wide areas they looked a little lost. Everyone wanted to play through the middle, making them a little easier to defend against.

Therefore in terms of gameplan I like the way Nongrim played, with width and pace. And the two players who impressed me the most in this game are from Nongrim: Niwan-o-Bareh and Wanbantei Lyngkhoi. Bareh is a typical modern right back, strong and good going forward. When Mawkhar scored their two goals, he was moved from the right to left with the instruction to prevent Aenam, who seemed to enjoy drifting to the right, from creating any more problems. Except on an occasion when Aenam nutmegged him he looked really solid. It was going forward where he really impressed. Hugging the touchline, he would put his head down and outrun his counterpart. Being a very right-footed player, though, he would eventually cut back to his right and then cross the ball into the box. One led to the equaliser while the other could have resulted in the winner.

Many would have noticed that he is very much a right-footed and would plan to counter that in future games by shoving him to his left side. To counter that, he will have to work harder to improve his wrong foot and that will only make him a better player. All in all, Bareh is a very good, solid player. The star of the match for me, however, is Wanbantei Lyngkhoi.

He played as the central attacker but was all over the pitch fighting for his team. More often than not, he would drift into wide areas looking for open spaces. This might also be the reason why the right back from Mawkhar played narrow and very deep (I am not sure though). And when Lyngkhoi had the ball he was always looking for someone to pass to in more advantageous positions. Pulling the defence all around the place, he was finally rewarded with a goal. His contribution, though, was more than trying to score a goal. Without the ball he would drop deep and act as an extra defender, winning important duels for his team. He ran himself into the ground and in the latter part of the second half looked spent.

The offside and the misplaced cross were clear signs of his exhaustion. Among many things, a very important thing which distinguishes elite football from the levels below them is fitness. The modern game is fast and demands a lot of physical exertion. Even at this level it can make the difference between winning and losing. Fitter teams and players can keep their concentration longer and that allows them to score late goals or stand their ground against relentless attacks. Lyngkhoi is one player who I believe has a big future ahead of him and somebody I would like to follow. The style he plays demands a lot on the body and to maintain that he has to get fitter. For me if he can finish games he will only improve and get better. I wish the best for Lyngkhoi on his future.

It was a great game played by two very good teams. My expectation for the tournament has only gotten more optimistic. I would love to watch all the games but livelihood dictates that it will not be possible. But any game I can make it to I am sure will be a great one. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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