Nongmynsong resident Bhogtoram Mawroh was clearly supporting one side in yesterday’s second semifinal of the Third Division, but that doesn’t stop him from giving a balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of his team as well of the eventual winners, Pohkseh…

Pohkseh beat Nongmynsong by a scoreline of 3-0 and in the process entered the final of the Third Division. By doing so they also gained qualification to the Second Division. The scoreline, however, does not really reflect the game, with Nongmynsong being the more dominant team until the first goal was scored. I will be upfront about it: I wanted Nongmynsong to win and, based on the balance of play, they should have. However, one has to also admire the tenacity and determination of Pohkseh who won despite being second-best for most of the game. Still, the loss was more about Nongmynsong not finishing the job.

Nongmynsong lined up in a 4-1-2-3. Rekybert Ryntathiang played as the central striker supported by Bryan V Thabah on the left and Aurelius Thabah on the right. The midfield was made up of Banbor Nongbri as the deep lying playmaker, with K Myrthong and Jaspar Kharmawphlang playing in front of him. Defence was handled by Nikrak Sangma and C Kharsyntiew flanked by Kluvert B Marak and Alban Kharkongor.

Initially Pohkseh began very well with Nikodimus Lyngkhoi proving to be real nuisance on the right side. He was able to deliver some crosses as well. These, though, were dealt with easily by Nikrak, whose physical frame was of great help in winning tackles. Apart from being physically dominating, he was also in the right position most times. Of the two central defenders Nikrak was the more attacking with Kharsyntiew hanging back to make sure the team was not caught off guard in case of a mistake. Both the fullbacks were quite attacking, with Alban more so; during one his forward forays he managed to put in a brilliant cross. After some confusion in the box the ball felt to Myrthong, who failed to keep his shot on target. This missed opportunity came to haunt Nongmynsong as the team failed to take advantage of their dominance.

After initially coming under intense pressure from Pohkseh, Nongmynsong came back into the game strongly and dominated the match. This dominance was based on the brilliant performance of the midfield trio especially, Banbor. All the play flowed through him as he controlled the game for his team. Good with the ball at his feet, his passing was also excellent; not just lateral short passes but he played some key forward passes as well. Orchestrated by Banbor and supported by Jaspar and Myrthong, Nongmynsong dominated the midfield and, with it, the game. Pohkseh, on the other hand, began losing control of the game as the first half wore on.

Initially composed on the ball, Pohkseh began huffing the ball into Nongmynsong’s final third, which was easily dealt with by Nongmynsong’s defenders. Not looking very comfortable with the ball anymore, Pohkseh’s tactics was to play an early ball as soon as possible hoping their attacking players could take advantage of the quick transition. This didn’t happen. On the other hand, their opponents played a matured game, showing great patience on the ball. They probed for openings from both flanks with Rekybert also drifting into wide areas with the intention of stretching the defence.

When the opening was not apparent the ball was passed to the midfield, who began the whole process all over again. The possession must have been at least in the high 60% for the first half. The problem was that possession means nothing if you are not able to do anything with it. Rekybert and Aurelius were tasked with scoring goals, with the latter not retreating too much as Bryan, hoping to catch Pohkseh on the break. Both made some good runs into the box but could not provide the decisive blow. The only time the team came close after the missed chance by Myrthong was when the third goal had been scored by Pohkseh. The resulting delivery from a corner was smashed with tremendous power by a Nongmynsong player. But instead of disturbing the net it only bounced off the goal post.

The lack of players with clinical ability is quite common for teams in the Shillong leagues, especially at the lower levels. When Smit was playing Mawlai (in the First Division) they changed strikers on at least three occasions. Instead of deploying a proper striker they moved their wide attackers into central positions. That this was not the natural position of the players became very evident late in the second half when, chasing the game, almost every attacking player from Smit was in the midfield rather than upfront. On the other hand, two of Mawlai’s goals came from Oversharp Iawphniaw being inside the box to take advantage of some slack defending. Oversharp disappeared for most of the game but he took advantage of the chances when they came his way. Nongmynsong, on the other hand, lacked a clinical finisher as neither Rekybert nor Aurelius looked penetrating enough. And this, more than anything, was the reason for their loss. They looked good passing the ball around but never really threatened enough.

Pohkseh were just chasing the ball for long periods when eventually there was a mistake from Nongmynsong’s defence, which allowed their best player on the pitch, Nikodimus Lyngkhoi to put the ball into the back of the net. Arguably one of smallest players on the pitch, the determination in his play was for all to see.

In the beginning, when Pohkseh began well, he was the one responsible for creating some good chances. Like the rest he was left chasing shadows for most of the game but displayed good awareness to take advantage of the mistake by Nongmynsong. In spite of being on the back foot, he did not let his concentration waver. There are many cases of players fluffing chances when it falls to them after they have been bereft of possession for long periods of time. They are too eager and invariably waste the opportunity, but not Nikodimus. He was calm enough when he got the chance, displaying a very strong mental attitude. After the goal was scored he began trying even harder to score another while at the same time making sure he did not neglect his defensive duties. For me Nikodimus was the man-of-the-match. The second goal came soon enough. It was another defensive mistake: this time it was the goalkeeper.

To be honest, neither goalkeeper – Alton Nongdhar or Baiainehskhem Nongspung – looked confident enough; they spilled the ball on multiple occasions. Soon after the first goal was scored Pynshngain Kharkongor released a speculative shot from outside the box which dipped at the last moment beating Baianehskhem, who should have been able to punch away the ball. Alton was lucky to not being punished for his mistakes. The fact that neither took their own goal kicks was also not a good sign. I can understand if they were injured but that was not the case. This, though, is very common in the Shillong leagues, which reminds me of college days – the person who is the least skilful is made the goalkeeper. (Full disclosure: I was the goalkeeper for my class for two years.) I am not sure this is the case at this level, but from my observation the goalkeeping position doesn’t get much attention. I hope I am wrong.

The third goal was a brilliant counterattacking move with Pohkseh’s attacking players staying upfront to take advantage of a turnover in possession. A single long ball with the defence out of position and the third goal was scored. Any comeback was now impossible. There was a shot that hit the goalpost but even if that had gone in it would be no more than a consolation for Nongmynsong.

Although I am from Nongmynsong this is only the second time I have watched the team play. On both occasions they were the better team, the only difference being that they were on the losing side this time. Obviously they did very well to reach this position and if they had won yesterday and gained promotion I believe the team was good enough to stay in the Second Division if not win it.

However, that is not going to happen now. They will have to come back next season and try again. The obvious area for improvement is the striking department. Also, though the midfield did very well, not many forward passes between the lines were played. As a result not many runs behind defenders were made by the attackers. A little more creativity will be good next season. Still, I am happy that Nongmynsong came this far. Maybe next year will be our year. Congrats to Pohkseh and I hope they win the Third Division trophy. All the best!

(TSR photo)

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