It may have been a goalless encounter, but Bhogtoram Mawroh was impressed by the players of Nangkiew Irat and Rangdajied United in yesterday’s U-18 Shillong Premier League match…

I had to make a difficult choice yesterday. There were two matches happening simultaneously. On the one hand, not having watched Shillong Lajong play in this tournament was a big incentive to go to Third Ground. On the other hand, the lack of seating arrangements and the possibility of a blockbuster encounter between strong Shillong Premier League powerhouses, Nangkiew Irat and Rangdajied United, was a strong attraction to go to the JN Stadium. Ultimately comfortable seats and the chance to watch two good teams play were enough reasons to convince me to head towards the stadium.

And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a top quality match with players from both teams putting in a great show of individual skill and solid teamwork. There were some who did better than others. But in the final analysis it was two very good teams playing very positive football from the word go.

Rangdajied were spot on with their tactics from the very beginning of the match. They played a 4-3-3 formation against Nangkiew Irat’s 4-1-4-1. The shape meant that in wide areas Rangdajied had an extra player. This numerical advantage was fully exploited by Rangdajied. For Nangkiew Irat Denald Carlos Nongbri played as the central holding midfielder and ahead of him were Kitboklang Thangkiew and Shano Tariang. When there was too much pressure on Denald, Kitboklang would drop deeper to support him. On certain occasions Shano would also lend his support. But on most occasions Shano stayed upfront to give support to Albert Nongsiej, who played as the striker, and Sumarbha Bareh, as the left wide attacker. With the right side attacker Mario Shanpru also tucking in to give support to the midfield Rangdajied made full use of the space left vacant on this side of the pitch.

With the central midfield manned by Knerkitlang Buam, Fernando Sohkhlet and Oresterwell Langshiang, both Mebanrikupar Rynjah and Rame John Lyngdoh kept their width, stretching Nangkiew’s defence. Time and again Rangdajied launched their attack from the left flank. From this direction Balamlynti Khongjee and Mebanrikupar Rynjah gave a torrid time to Denis Laitmon, who was left all alone to deal with the two of them. When Mario retreated to give Denis support, Knerkitlang joined Balamlynti and Mebanrikupar ensuring that they always had numerical superiority. Though Rangdajied were able to run behind Nangkiew’s defence on many occasions, Mebanrikupar and co. did not create enough clear cut chances for Donboklang Mawlong to take advantage of. And although Rangdajied looked the superior side, the best chances fell to Nangkiew Irat. On two occasions Shano split the defence with his pass but Sumbarbha could not take advantage of the opportunities created. The match was in fact littered with instances of Sumarbha not able to take advantage of the chances that came his way. If he had been clinical with some of those chances the outcome of the match could have been very different.

During Nangkiew Irat’s last match against Ryntih Albert was substituted in the second half and Sumarbha played as the striker upfront. Highly tenacious and exhibiting a never-say-die attitude, there is so much to like about the way Sumarbha plays. Always running after a lost cause and never letting the defence have any respite, he is a player every manager would love to have. However, at the same time, his inability to convert chances or play the right ball at the right time will also spook some others. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of good about him but also a lot to improve as well. It was his mistake in the second half that led to Rangdajied creating their best chance of the match. Fortunately he was spared the ignominy of being the one responsible for the team’s loss. It wouldn’t have been fair on him.

The first half ended with neither team able to score the decisive goal. Both teams came out determined to change that. Having almost neglected the right side in the first half, Rangdajied began by channelling their attack from this side. This time it was Rame John who led the attack and he did quite well. On more than two occasions he was able to get behind Honourable Kharmyndai and play some good crosses into the box. Like the earlier attempts, though, many of these attacks came to naught. In the second half, Nangkiew Irat did not change their shape but they changed their approach. In the first half they were guilty of being caught off guard on more than a few occasions. Pressing collectively and in numbers Rangdajied bullied Nangkiew’s players all over the pitch. This allowed a lot of space for Oresterwell to dictate the game and play his highly accurate long balls to the left as well the right side of the pitch. Probably the smallest player on the pitch, he gave one of the most dominant performances of all.

Playing as the deep laying playmaker, Oresterwell’s passing was sometimes out of this world. The ease at which he moved around in the middle and played passes between the defence was just awe-inspiring. On top of it he wasn’t lax with his defensive duties as well. Without any exaggeration, Oresterwell is one of the most naturally talented players I have seen in a long time. Very difficult to dispossess when the ball is at his feet, he went into a mazy run and almost scored the goal of the tournament. If the goal had stood I don’t think anybody else could have scored a better goal even in the senior SPL. At the same time it has to be acknowledged that Nangkiew allowed him to play well in the first half. Although he still managed to create some chances (like the solo goal he almost scored) he was kept in check with some aggressive counter pressing from Nangkiew Irat in the second half. Their players played much tighter to Oresterwell and didn’t allow him a lot of space. In this regard, Kitboklang and Denald had a much improved game.

Watching the match it was fascinating to see how good players with different styles can impact on the game. Just like Oresterwell, Shano was the creative force for Nangkiew. Unlike Oresterwell he played further upfront, in the number 10 position, just behind the striker. Not afraid to take on players and hold the ball under intense pressure, he played some very good passes for the attackers. Unfortunately, as discussed above, they were not converted. Not averse to fulfilling his defensive duties as well, Shano led from the front and was vocal throughout the match. Like Oresterwell he tried to score a wonder goal of his own with a strike from the middle of the pitch. Unfortunately for him, Reward Starfield Shadap, Rangdajied’s goalkeeper and his counterpart, had positioned himself perfectly to catch the ball. Though both Oresterwell and Shano failed to lead their team to a win, watching these two highly-talented players playing in the same match was a treat. Last year in the SPL Rangdajied tried to circumvent the U-18 rule by withdrawing their U-18 player very early in the match. I hope that this year they will give ample opportunities to their young players to showcase their talent.

As the match was winding down two good chances came to both teams. For Nangkiew the chance fell to Albert, who tried to chip the goalkeeper and didn’t miss by much. On Rangdajied’s side, following Sumarbha’s mistake, the ball was crossed into the box with Sukbhalang making a mistake and giving ample space for the attacker to shoot. To everyone’s surprise the shot was dragged wide. And thus the last chance to break the deadlock was lost. Unsurprisingly the match ended in a draw.

Although there was a lot of good attacking play from both sides (especially from Rangdajied) for me it was the defenders who stole the show. Balamlynti Khongjee was good in attack as well as defence. He not only combined very well with Knerkitlang and Mebanrikupar but played some good attacking passes of his own as well. Displaying good technical ability and vision I think he can play in multiple positions if required. The defenders who impressed me the most, though, were Sukbhalang Kharsyntiew and B Metoshanki Mawroh (finally a Mawroh). Except for the one mistake that Sukbhalang made in the latter stage of the second half, both players were absolutely rock solid for their team. It was their performance which kept Donboklang and others at bay throughout the match. When one faltered the other took over. After being kept quiet for most of the match, Donboklang outfoxed Sukbhalang and had a clear run at the goal. However, Metoshanki quickly came over and snuffed the threat. Putting last ditch blocks on the goal line and matching Rangdajied’s attackers pace, these two centre backs put in a stellar performance. For me both of them deserve the man-of-the-match award.

This was a top quality match and a wonderful exhibition of positive football. Matches like these are a barometer of the progress that the game has made in the state. But with Smit losing 4-1 to Lajong and Laban 12-1 to Langsning there is still a lot of work left to be done. Still a great day of football and hoping for more in the future.

(TSR photo)

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