After Langsning’s 2-0 loss to Shillong Lajong yesterday, Bhogtoram Mawroh is a little worried about their weakness in defence but is full of praise for Lajong skipper Kenstar Kharshong…

Before the start of this season, the team that intrigued me the most was Langsning. They were the champions for the last two seasons but had lost the majority of their players during the transfer window.

The entire backline and midfield was poached by Ryntih, while some other important players like Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait and Donlad Diengdoh were bought by Rangdajied United. Though some key players like Donborlang Nongkynrih, Batskhem Tariang, Kynsaibor Lhuid and Kitboklang Pale remained, Bah Hering Shangpliang had to effectively build an entirely new team from scratch.

The task was made all the more difficult due the fact that most of the incoming players were youngsters who were still learning the game, including Ksankupar Khongmalai who had played for Rangdajied.

One thing, though, was sure – any team led by Bah Hering will be a formidable one irrespective of changes in personnel. This seemed to be the case when they defeated pre-tournament favourites Ryntih in their opening match. The next two games, though, have raised question marks on that assertion. The draw against Nangkiew Irat and yesterday’s loss to Lajong means that Langsning have lost five points in two games; not the kind of form which will win the trophy. So where did it go wrong after the first game? Since I was not present at the first two matches I can only give my opinion based on the game against Lajong. From what I saw, in my opinion, this team is still good enough to make the top three. To win the SPL though, they will have to make some changes in their personnel.

Langsning played with a 4-3-3. With Figo Syndai, Kitbok and Kynsaibor the attack had a touch of familiarity. Figo was the best U-18 player from last season and with Donlad deciding to ply his trade elsewhere Figo got an opportunity to play upfront. Constantly swapping positions with Kitbok, the combination play between the three strikers was just fantastic. This is something that is unique about Bah Hering’s teams. They rely on teamwork to create goal scoring chances rather than individual talent. This is different from other teams, who rely on individual brilliance to score goals.

Forwards make clever runs and take positions in dangerous areas of the pitch, pulling defenders out of position. Kynsaibor was a nightmare for defenders on the left while Figo and Kitbok were just unplayable on the right. The crucial thing about the game plan was that Langsning always kept pressure on the defence by asking their strikers to stay high upfront. When Kitbok would drop deep to get involved in the build-up Banteilang Shylla would take his position. This constant swapping of positions with Figo also made man marking quite difficult. The only thing lacking from this was a goal. Kitbok got a few chances for himself (a couple of shots from outside the box and a close save from Neithovilie Chalieu) and created some for others but all of them came to naught.

The lack of end product was due to a combination of factors – good defending from Lajong and a lack of composure. When Kitbok tried an impossible shot in the early part of the first half you got the feeling that this is a team that is trying too hard. Wayward shooting and some last ditch defending by Kenstar Kharsong and company was the only thing that kept Lajong from conceding. This was the case in both the first and second halves, with Langsning piling attack upon attack with relentless ferocity.

These attacks were variations of both long balls to the strikers as well as balls being moved from rear to front through quick passing. Langsning’s midfielders: Preciousland Kharbhih, Banteilang and Pynbhalang Suting were much quicker to react than Lajong’s midfielders and their control and passing was a treat to watch. Possession was dominated by Langsning to such an extent, especially in the second half, that the only real opportunities for Lajong to attack came from counterattacks.

Early in the first half though, it was Lajong who started the brighter.

Just a minute after the game started Kynsailang Khongsit, playing as the rightback for Lajong, made a darting run into the box and after beating the defender took a shot which hit the side netting. Very soon Naorem Mahesh Singh, who was playing from the left, drifted to the right and played a delightful pass which Phrangki Buam skied over the bar. Phrangki got a chance again as a loose touch from Kynsaibor allowed Freestar Kharbangar to play a forward pass to the midfielder who was able to put his pass beyond the goalkeeper but not into the goal.

In all the early attacks that Lajong created it was Naorem who was the architect, creating chances for others. Eventually it was his free-kick which Kenstar turned in to the net for Lajong’s goal. Unfortunately for him and Lajong, Naorem slumped to the ground holding his knee unable to take part anymore. Lalrohlua replaced Naorem, coming into the midfield and Phrangki shifted to the left side of the attack. After the goal Langsning starting dominating the game and peppered Lajong with waves of attack. From this point it was the show of Kitbok, Kynsaibor and Figo. Figo, especially, was very impressive.

After shining as the U-18 player from last year’s SPL campaign, Figo has gone on to do well for the state team in the T Ao trophy, where Meghalaya lost the final again on dreaded penalties. I feel like Meghalaya is like England before 2018 – destined to fail when penalties beckon. Let’s hope the U-17 Subroto Cup team can reverse this trend.

Coming back to Figo, his first touch and feints were such a treat to watch. He got an opportunity in the second half when he was able to release a shot which went straight to Neitho. With Langsning playing a very compact shape and an aggressive pressing game he was a constant threat to Lajong’s defence.

The trio of Figo, Kitbok and Kynsaibor is the best I have seen until now in terms of understanding and combination play. These three just need a single game where they can score more than a couple of goals. After that I believe the floodgates are going to open and this trio is going to score a bucket load of goals.

Although in many ways the lack of finishing let Langsning down yesterday it is the defence that worries me, especially the centre backs. In this game it was Ksankupar and Batskehm who played as the central defenders. The flanks were protected by Iakmenlang Khongjee and Donborlang Nongkynrih.

The fullbacks did alright but the lack of height in the centre of defence is a concern. If there was one are where Lajong got the better of Langsning it was in winning headers. Langsning were losing headers all over the pitch. When Samuel Lyngdoh Kynshi was playing as the striker this was not much of a concern. But when Parvaj Bhuiya came in place of Batskhemlang Thangkiew the lack of physicality in defence became evident.

I like Parvaj and I wished that he played regularly for Lajong since he is the only proper striker they have in their squad. He may not score a lot but what he does is he always engages the defence and his antics draw fouls. Ksankupar got sucked into his theatrics and got a yellow card for a challenge from behind. That challenge was coming as soon as Parvaj entered the fray.

While Ksankupar looks a little inexperienced in that position, Batskem gives me a heart attack whenever the ball is at his feet. It is not that there is any problem in playing out of the back but the easy passes that he ignores in his quest to beat other players makes me sweat. Both are fullbacks who have been asked to play as centre backs. That may have worked but for the fact that neither of them have the physicality to win aerial duels for their team, especially against taller strikers. A flick from the attacker and a late run from the midfield would spell danger in this situation.

I have only seen Batskhem play as a central defender in a three-man defence and when players are not available. Ksankupar, on the other hand, is a top left back who has a magical left foot which can deliver delicious crosses into the box.

Bah Hering had said after the game against Ryntih that they lack players in certain positions, therefore attacking players are made to play in defensive positions. Donborlang playing as right back is understandable because he is very hard working. But in the centre you need to have some height. I am surprised that a team of Langsning’s stature could not get taller defenders. Last season as well they did not have tall defenders, but in Brolington Warlarpih, Restom Khriam, Milancy Khongstia and Dibinroy Nongspung they had experienced players of high quality. This is not the case this year. This could be the Achilles heel of Langsning this season.

Even with the departures this Langsning team is absolutely fantastic and I predict it will be in the top three by the end of the season. If only they had a couple of taller defenders who can win defensive headers they could very well defend their SPL trophy.

This lack of height actually led to the first goal that Lajong scored. It came when Kenstar rose the highest to meet Naorem’s free-kick and buried the ball into the bottom of the net. Kenstar’s performance in this game was just awe-inspiring. He was not only rock solid for his team but went on a couple of overlapping runs of his own. Curiously, though Kenstar started by playing through the centre of defence, he occasionally switched sides with Mohammed Shafique Ahmed on the left. On one such forward foray he released a stinging shot that brought a good save from Frolicson Dkhar, Langsning’s goalkeeper.

Late in the second half, it was his free-kick that Freestar Kharbangar controlled and scored the second goal. Without his contribution and solidity in the middle of defence Lajong could have very well lost the game. In fact, in the two Lajong matches that I have watched he has been the team’s best player.

The midfield was overrun both against Nongrim Hills as well as Langsning. The attack is not clicking (I am not considering the Laban game), with the players not yet showing any sustained understanding. Phrangki had some good chances in the game but he squandered them, Kynshi has looked ineffective while Donboklang Lyngdoh disappeared yesterday as well.

In defence neither Apborlang Kurbah nor Shafique look reliable while Aman Ahlawat has looked nervous at times. In many ways, it is only Kenstar, and to some extent Kynsai, who have held things together. Lajong are at the top of the table but it has not been a vintage performance from them with the opposition outplaying them for large parts of the game. At the same time, this is the best chance Lajong have to win the trophy. In fact there are no favourites this year with many teams being equal contenders for the trophy.

Lajong need to get more out of their players, Ryntih need to score a lot more goals, Langsning need defensive reinforcements, while Rangdajied still lack a spark. Nangkiew Irat have begun well but I have not watched them play, so I cannot say anything. It is still early days and there are a lot of games to go. But one thing which is becoming clearer is that this going to be a very exciting SPL season. Unlike last year, whoever wins the trophy may not have to be the most dominant team, they just have to be a little luckier than the rest. So cheers for an exciting SPL 2019!

(TSR photo)

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