Nangkiew Irat are one a four-match losing streak and Bhogtoram Mawroh can’t understand why they couldn’t play as well in the first half yesterday against Ryntih as they did in the second. He also has words of praise for Ryntih captain Brolington Warlarpih, but names Manbha Iawphniaw as his choice for man-of-the-match…

The 2-1 loss to Ryntih has further deepened Nangkiew Irat’s woes, making them prime candidates for relegation along with Laban.

While Laban’s horrible season can be blamed on a drastic change in personnel, that is not the case with Nangkiew. They have a settled team and some very good players in their squad. They began the season well by beating pre-tournament favourites Shillong Lajong. But since then their season has been on a bit of a nosedive. The loss against Laban and Nongrim Hills in the first leg when both sides were struggling for form was an indication that something was not right with the team. Their 5-1 loss to Rangdajied was the highlight of the gloom surrounding the team. When Rangdajied scored their fifth goal, Damehun Syih fell to his haunches, a broken man – a perfect picture of the team. Since then Nangkiew have remained in relegation territory with fellow strugglers Laban.

In the match against Ryntih they lined up in a 4-3-3. Lambor Nongsiej was tasked with leading the line as a lone striker supported by Dame from the left and Mario Shanpru from the right. In the midfield they played Khangmiki Pale, Shaibor Nongrum and Richanlang Sympli. Shaibor and Richanlang swapped positions regularly during the first half with the one dropping back when the other advanced. The defence was marshalled by Denelson Pyngrope, Pynche Tyngkhan, Dondorlang Rani and Melvin Warjri.

Since I have not watched all of Nangkiew’s matches, I am not really sure if they have given Sukbhalang Kharsyntiew, who played as centre back for them in the U-18 SPL, a chance in defence. He, for me, was one of the finds of the tournament. Along with pace, Sukbhalang’s biggest asset is his positional awareness and ability to thwart attacks without going to ground. If he hasn’t got his opportunity, I would very much like to see him get it soon. This is very much needed as the current centre backs seem a little slow to catch on to the tactics of the opposition.

In the first half, it was Ryntih who dominated the game. They decided to go with a 4-4-2 with Manbha Iawphniaw and Badonkupar Marbaniang playing as the front two. Badonkupar’s role was to win headers and hold the ball while Manbha played off him. This partnership worked very well for Ryntih. Manbha, especially, had a very good game. Apart from drifting to wide areas, time and again he played in the space between midfield and defence. This created a lot of problems for Nangkiew. The front two kept the pressure on Monlang Shylla, Nangkiew’s goalkeeper, who was not allowed to play from the back. Instead Monlang was forced to play long balls which were easily dealt with by Brolington Warlarpih and Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw.

The midfield duo of Dameki Khongstia and Fullmoon Mukhim controlled the midfield, circulating the ball expertly while making sure possession was retained with the team. Because of the formation it was expected that it would be from the wide areas where most of Ryntih’s threat would come. Advancing from his fullback position Restom Khriam put in some very good crosses early into the game with a particular not very far from the goal post. From the other flank Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri, playing as the left fullback, combined well with Sheen Sohktung. Ryntih’s emphasis on wide areas was apparent to everyone who was in the stadium except Nangkiew’s defence.

Time and again Ban and Brolington played some diagonal passes to the wide attackers. And almost every time they found their target. Here the role of the centre backs become very important. Being closer to their own goal they have a better view of the game. Dondorlang Rani and Melvin Warjri needed to communicate with their fullbacks, making sure they were not out of position. On one occasion Brolington’s diagonal pass found Restom with acres on space in front. Fortunately for Nangkiew he failed to control the ball and a dangerous situation was averted. With Nangkiew’s midfield trio of Khangmiki, Shaibor and Richanlang being outplayed by Dameki and Fullmoon and conceding a lot of space, Brolington played almost as a deep lying playmaker.

For most of the first 45 minutes Brolington played inside Nangkiew’s half, spraying passes to the forward players. On many occasions, when a team is defending deep one of the holding midfielders from the attacking team would drop back to receive passes from their centre backs. This is a waste of an extra player who should be playing higher up the pitch to put more pressure. In the game against Odisha FC last night NorthEast United played on the counter, ceding a lot of space in front of them. Vinit Rai, playing as the holding midfielder for Odisha, instead of pushing forward still played deep. He did play some diagonal crosses from his position but they didn’t really create problems for NEUFC’s defence. Brolington’s performance is again a testament of his sharp brain, which can read game situations perfectly. He is a natural leader for any team that he plays for.

With Ryntih being completely dominant it was not a surprise that they went two goals up before the first half came to an end. The first goal arrived courtesy a cross from Sheen which was glanced in by Manbha. There was no pressure on Manbha, who was left with a lot of open space in the opposition box. While the first goal was a highly opportunistic one, the second goal was more spectacular. Manbha again dropped in the gap between Nangkiew’s midfield and defence and played the pass to Andy Mawthoh, who, despite the pressure of defenders, was able to cross the ball which was acrobatically dispatched by Sheen. Here again the defence failed. A part of the blame has to be accepted by Nangkiew’s midfield as well. It was neither able to control the game nor provide defensive cover. If something had to change for Nangkiew they had to make substitutions in the midfield. When the second half began they did just that.

Banshan Nongdhar came on for Shaibor in the second half and the game started changing for Nangkiew. Very soon Roikhihbha Nongtdu came on for Mario and slotted into the midfield. The introduction of these players changed the game completely. There was a lot more energy and bite in Nangkiew’s game. While Roikhih played as the playmaker, Banshan and Dame began creating problems from the wide areas. Dame was the only bright spark in the first half for Nangkiew. Though he played well, he lacked support from team mates. With Roikhih and Banshan on the pitch he was able to express himself more freely. In fact there was a definite game plan to bring Dame more into the match with many of the passes meant for him.

Lambor also had a better game in the second half. In the first he was shackled by Ban and Brolington. In the second, though, instead of backing into the centre backs he dropped away from them and starting winning his headers. Roikhih’s solo run was the highlight of Nangkiew’s domination. Some of the off the ball movements of Roikhih and Banshan were especially very impressive. One thing which distinguishes Manchester City from other teams is the off the ball movement of their attacking players. City players never keep still but are always moving and running the channels. Once a player makes a pass to another he does not stay in position to receive the ball back. Instead he makes a run behind the defender to get into more dangerous positions. This is how City create overloads. I have yet to see a team in the SPL do something like that. The closest I saw was the Langsning team of last season which had mastered this tactic. Though Nangkiew are far from either of the two champion teams they had a good second half, which raises many questions.

Why couldn’t Nangkiew have played the first half in the same manner as they played the second?

In fact, the first and second halves were completely unlike each each. While in the first it was Ryntih all the way, Nangkiew had the upper hand in the second with the former restricted to playing solely on the counter.

The second half display showed that Nangkiew can hold their own against stronger teams while not becoming overtly negative at the same time. So why was the first half performance so underwhelming? Is it that the coach is still not sure of his first XI? After so late in the campaign this would be a big surprise. Or is there a fitness issue with the players not being in the physical condition to play two halves of a high-intensity match? I hope it’s not the second because football is a game of 90 minutes and professionals are expected to last the full quota and more. Or is it that Nangkiew have been living in the shadow of their more illustrious brethren Rangdajied for far too long?

It is no secret that Nangkiew are a sister club of Rangdajied’s. At the same time, they are a professional club with professional coaching staff and players who have been playing in the SPL for a long time now. They should be pushing for a finish in the top half every season and they are good enough to do that. Two relegations (they were relegated after the 2016 season and fought their way back the following year) in four seasons are not going to do a lot of good for the morale of the team. Nangkiew need to pull themselves out of the shadow of Rangdajied and if they outshine their more senior counterparts so be it. They were U-18 SPL champions once and it’s time they start showing their quality at the senior stage as well.

As for Ryntih, they played mostly on the counter in the second half. Fullmoon tried to control the game but Nangkiew’s midfielders had a much better game. Upfront, when Badonkupar was substituted out, there was no physical presence to hold the ball up for Ryntih.

Sheen and Ebormi Buam, who came on in the second half, played as the front two with Manbha playing as the left-sided wide attacker. Neither Sheen nor Ebormi are number 9s and Manbha couldn’t influence the game as much. Manbha still had a good chance but his shot was blocked by his own team mate Andy.

Because of his highly impressive performance Manbha was my man-of-the-match. With this win Ryntih are now back in third place. At this stage Lajong are the frontrunners for another SPL trophy. But a few results here and there and Ryntih could very well be in with a shot. Will that happen? Only time will tell.

(TSR photo)

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