When it came to the big game against Langsning yesterday Rangdajied United really showed grit and determination to win and win they did. Can they maintain that for the rest of the season? Bhogtoram Mawroh is cautiously optimistic…

When Langsning equalised from the penalty spot through Kynsaibor Lhuid in the 72nd minute yesterday, Rangdajied began to look like a side that would fall at the final hurdle yet again. At that moment, the one thought that crossed my mind was: does Rangdajied have the mentality and the hunger to make a comeback?

That question was emphatically answered by Donlad Diengdoh, who scored twice and completed his hat-trick in just 10 minutes. In the process he gave a glimpse of a new Rangdajied, a team that looked to have finally found a spark. This extra quality could very well result in them winning the SPL for the first time since 2013.

Rangdajied’s team selection for this crucial match against Langsning was a positive one. The shape was a 4-4-2 with Donlad leading the line and Wallamsuk Nongkhlaw, a striker by trade, playing behind him. The idea was for Donlad to hold the ball and allow Wallamsuk to make his runs behind the defence. That didn’t happen quite often but with Wallamsuk dropping into the midfield it gave Rangdajied numerical superiority in that area of the pitch. This allowed Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait to play as a deep lying playmaker with Belton Lartang in a more forward role. Raikutshisha Buam played on the right and on the left was the supremely talented Oresterwell Langshiang.

The selection of Oresterwell was an especially positive move from the team management. Without a doubt he is one of the best young players in the state at the moment, possibly the most naturally talented among them all. The thing that differentiates good players from great ones is the way how time seems to stop when the ball is at their feet. Such players often seem to have more time than others. This allows them to spot opportunities which many others wouldn’t because their minds are not calm enough. The first goal was a perfect demonstration of that quality.

With Donborlang Nongkynrih bearing down on him, Orester switched the ball to his right and released a strike which buried the ball into the top left corner of the net. The ball might have clipped Donbor’s boot on the way through, but the accuracy and technique were quite outstanding. But what was most impressive was Orester’s ability to spot an opportunity and paint a picture in his mind of what comes after. Still a young player, he will need a lot of guidance and motivation. If he’s able to keep his mind focused on the game and continue his development, the sky is the limit for this precocious young player.

The other player who played really well was Ronald. Unlike in the previous match against Lajong where he looked out of sorts, he gave a commanding performance in the middle of the pitch. Most impressive was his distribution, which was just awe-inspiring. It was his long pass to Orester that led to the first goal. The energy levels were also good. Apart from moving the ball smartly around he also tried to put in some crosses into the box for the wide players to attack. Although these attempts came to naught, the vision was brilliant. This positive mindset led to the second goal when he exchanged passes with Belton and Wallamsuk, with the latter threading a pass to Donlad who scored his first goal.

This performance raises a particular question: why can’t Ronald play the way he did yesterday on a consistent basis? Late in the second half there was an occasion when he was very loose with his pass and I began to worry that his bad habits were coming back. I have always rated him highly but, make no mistake, it is consistency which will help him rise to the stop. If he’s not consistent he is not good enough.

If there’s one player who has always given his best every single day it is Donlad. My man-of-the-match from the last game, he produced another match-winning performance this time as well. Predictably he worked very hard for his team and this time he got just rewards for his efforts by scoring a hat-trick. The one thing missing from his game until now was goals. The three goals that he scored yesterday were opportunistic and bullish, something which any number 9 would be proud of.

For the first goal he latched on to a through ball from Wallamsuk. The second was him reacting faster than anyone. The third goal, though, was the best of the lot. Picking up a ball in the midfield he bullied Batskhem Tariang and showed great speed and composure to put the ball past Frolicson Dkhar. He was also at the end of two very close headers. With Donlad it’s like you are a playing with an extra man on the field. Add it to goals and you have a genuine match winner. If he can replicate the same hunger for goals in future games, Rangdajied have a very good chance of winning the SPL.

The other thing that Rangdajied will have to replicate in future is the energy. Whenever the ball reached Kynsaibor or Banteilang Lyngdoh, Rangdajied’s midfield was all over them. And when the ball reached the front two of Kitboklang Pale and Banteilang Shylla, Aiborlang Khongjee and the other defenders squeezed the space, making it for difficult for the attackers to mount an assault. As already mentioned above, Wallamsuk would often drop into the midfield to take part in defensive duties. Raikutshisha also drifted to the middle to help his team. This overloaded the middle of the pitch and with Niawkorlang Kyndiah and Altanson Kharmaw holding their position, it gave a solid defensive shape to the team. In terms of attack or defence, Rangdajied were the better side and their win was a deserved one.

As for Langsning, the same problems have continued to afflict them. In this match they played with a front two in Banteilang and Kitbok with the shape of the team resembling a 4-4-2. True to his attacking ethos, Bah Hering Shangpliang asked both to stay high up to keep the pressure on the defence. This is a trademark tactic of Bah Hering: whether it’s a front three or two, pressing starts from the top with the strikers leading the way. Everyone plays with intensity and there is emphasis on playing forwards rather than backwards or sideways. Such an ultra-attacking game often reminds me of the way Liverpool play under Jurgen Klopp. The similarity does not end there. The problem the team faces is also not unlike that which plagued Liverpool a couple of seasons ago.

Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have scored a lot of goals with their front three being one of the most potent in all of Europe. The way the front three of Mane, Salah and Firmino combine to create and finish the attack is just awe-inspiring. Langsning’s front three of Kitbok, Kynsai and Figo have, on occasions, looked like Liverpool’s front three the way they play quick, decisive passes among themselves to create scoring chances. In the SPL there isn’t a team that have created so much in the final third as Langsning. Finishing, though, has been a problem this season. Banteilang scuffed his shot very early in the match and even when he went on a mazy run past a couple of defenders the final attempt was off target. In this match, Arnesius Marwein gave support to Kitbok and Banteilang from the left and got a couple of chances to score. He, like the others, couldn’t take the opportunity.

Tremiki Lamurong, the U-18 player, played from the right and later switched to the left in the second half. I was worried that he would be taken off early as his performance was not very assured. I was therefore very glad that he was kept on until late into the second half when he demonstrated a sublime piece of skill.

As he was advancing from the left wing he saw the ball coming over his shoulder. He swerved and controlled the ball with his right foot just centimetres off the ground. That was an absolutely brilliant piece of skill. He didn’t get into a lot of scoring positions but showed great promise.

The first goal Langsning scored was another brilliant piece of skill. Iakmenlang Khongjee, this time, playing as the left back went on his solo run which was capped with a brilliant strike from outside the box. It was another amazing strike from a young player. This was Langsning’s Oresterwell moment. There are some very good young players in the SPL right now.

Kynsai, who had been playing upfront, retreated to the midfield where Banteilang Lyngdoh partnered him. Lyngdoh had played as the centre back in the last match. This again showed that the coach does not yet know his best midfield combination. While Lyngdoh shone in this role, Kynsai looked a little disinterested. His first touch, normally very good, was very loose and his passing not up to the mark. Rangdajied’s team pressing in the midfield was one reason for his ineffectiveness but a part of it has to be put down to his lack of application. It was not that he was playing this role for the first time. In Langsning’s last campaign to qualify for the I-League he had played in the midfield. Therefore he cannot say that it was an unfamiliar position for him.

Being a senior he needs to lead by example, whichever position he is asked to play in. I am sure someone like Donborlang, playing as the right back, would like to play higher up the pitch. Still, he has always given his best for the team. Kynsai is more effective upfront but with the team lacking creativity in the midfield there was a reason he was asked to go into the midfield. He needs to apply himself where he is asked to play.

Although the midfield has been changing a lot, to be honest that does not worry me the most. There is a lack of creativity in the midfield, no doubt, but there are other options available for attack. Like Liverpool, Langsning could look at the fullbacks for providing an extra attacking option. Liverpool’s fullbacks, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold created plentiful chances last season and are doing the same this season as well. The midfield of Milner, Henderson, Fabinho and Wijnaldum concentrate in giving solidity to the team, leaving creativity to others. Langsning could very well go down that path as both Donborlang and Iakmenlang are capable of creating as well as finishing chances for the team. The problem, though, will be that they will leave their centre backs highly exposed in such a situation.

Defence, especially in the central positions, is the biggest worry for Langsning at the moment. Batskhem and Ksankupar Khongmalai played as the centre backs against Rangdajied. Both are fullbacks who have been asked to play in a position in which they have never looked comfortable.

Langsning don’t seem to have options for this crucial position. Liverpool’s was transformed when they bought Virgil van Dijk. The big Dutch centre back along with Allison Becker led Liverpool to their Champions League trophy. This year might end a 30-year-long wait for the EPL trophy. If that happens, it will be because of the improvement in the defensive department. Without Laporte, Manchester City have not looked very impressive, succumbing to defeats against Norwich City and Wolves. If Langsning are to be anywhere near the top, they will have to invest in defenders, centre backs to be precise. They need a physical presence at the back of the pitch. Without them they may not win another SPL trophy for some time.

As for Rangdajied, with Aiborlang Khongjee and Mebankhraw Wahlang at the back they have looked assured. Even if the first line of defence is breached, getting past the big frame of Padam Chettri will not be easy. The problem has been upfront. In the match against Langsning this problem seems to have found a solution. When Lajong and Langsning were on the way to winning the trophy in years past they were absolutely ruthless. They always approached every game with the intention of winning big and decisively.

Rangdajied will have to show the same ruthlessness if they are to win the SPL. Lajong may drop some points in the next few matches but they have enough quality and experience to take them through. If Rangdajied drop their standards Lajong will definitely win the SPL trophy. Is Rangdajied hungry enough for the trophy? Time will tell.

(TSR photo)

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