The sunshine and OC Blue Shillong Premier League convinced Bhogtoram Mawroh to come down to Polo yesterday and he didn’t regret it, as Ryntih and Rangdajied United put on a good show. However, he feels they both need improvement if they want to win the title…

The live telecast of Shillong Premier League matches is something which should have taken place a long ago time. However, it is still not the same as being at the ground watching the game along with other spectators. That feeling cannot be replaced.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when football matches worldwide were being played behind closed doors, everyone felt the lack of energy and drama. Therefore, it was a great feeling to be able to go the ground again and take part in the spectacle of a collective experience (of the players and the fans), which is football once again. And, luckily, the first SPL game for me happened to be between two very goods, Rangdajied, former champions of sometime ago, and Ryntih, the pretenders to the throne which is not yet theirs.

Both team have very good players. Rangdajied, especially, have quite a few who have had top class experience like Samuel Shadap, Poibiang Poshna, Chesterpaul Lyngdoh and Aiborlang Khongjeee. Ryntih, on the other hand, had tried to qualify for the I-League a year ago and have retained many of those same players.

Rangdajied lined up with a 4-3-3 while Ryntih went with their familiar 4-4-2. The way both the teams lined up and the players they fielded meant that both teams had weaknesses as well as strengths in certain areas.

Playing with two midfielders in the form of Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait and Hardy Cliff Nongbri meant that Ryntih were a man short against Rangdajied’s midfield trio of Maxderidoff Wahlang, Raikutshisha Buam and Wansiewdor Nengnong. However, in terms of quality, the latter were a notch below the midfield duo of Ryntih.

Both Ronaldkydon and Hardy are seasoned professionals now, with Hardy in particular having a very good Santosh Trophy earlier this year. Even though the team lost exited in the group stage of the final round, Hardy was one of the few players who showed his quality. He led from the front and, if there had been a little more experience around him, the team could have gone far. Ronaldkydon is someone I keep hoping will one day realize his potential.

As for Rangdajied, Raikut is the one who stands out in the midfield. He is a solid player, circulates the ball expertly and will occasionally look to play a key pass. However, he is not someone who will dominate and win the game from the midfield on his own. The support he requires is not yet ready. Maybe this midfield combination of Raikut-Maxderidoff-Wansiewdor will click in future but right now it still quite uncooked. So, while Ryntih had a little more quality, the fact that they are a man short meant both teams were evenly matched in the end.

When it comes to the other end of the pitch, the story was a little more exciting. Ryntih played two strikers upfront, Dawanchwa Carlos Challam and Badonkupar Marbaniang, or ‘Momo’ as I heard him being called by the fans and his team mates. In front of them were Samuel Shadap and Poibiang Poshna, full backs who were playing as centre backs. While both are highly experienced players, they are not the tallest, while both of Ryntih’s attackers, especially Badonkupar, are physical players who like to keep the pressure on the opposition’s centre backs.

While Dawanchwa is the one who drops a little deeper to pick up the second ball or play between the gap between defence and midfield, he is also quite good in the air.

On the other side were Restomwell Khriam and Mebankhraw K Wahlang for Ryntih who had to contend with the attacking trio of Chesterpaul, Knerktilang Buam and Donboklang Lyngdoh. Meban is a solid centre back but a little slow on the turn. Restom, on the other hand, is a senior pro who at this stage of his career relies more on his astute reading of the game rather than his speed to get him out of trouble. He is also a fullback who is being made to play centre back. The only time I saw him play centre back before was as part of a back three during Langsning’s winning season of 2018. Donbok and especially Chesterpaul are very quick players who could expose both Restom and Meban if they were not on their toes. In such a scenario, the team that is aggressive and avoids making mistakes has a better chance to come out on top.

One criticism that I have of Rangdajied is that while they always were a formidable team, they start slowly and take their time to get into the game. In fact most of the teams in the SPL come alive only in the second half. Only two teams have bucked that trend – Shillong Lajong and Langsning. It is not a wonder they are the two most successful teams of the recent past. However, this time around Rangdajied were quickly out of the blocks. They kept Ryntih’s defence under tremendous pressure with Chesterpaul’s speed proving to be a big problem. The relentless pace meant that mistakes were inevitable. And this was exactly what happened. Ronaldkydon lost the ball under pressure from Raikut to Donbok, who released a thunderous shot from outside the box which gave no chance to Eric Nongkhlaw, Ryntih’s goalkeeper.

Among the players who were on the pitch, Donbok is one who gives the impression that he enjoys playing the game. He appears to be a free spirit who wants to share his joy with the world. Winning is important but I feel he enjoys winning beautifully more. Highly skillful with the ball at his feet, his movements were also exceptional. Playing centrally, he was ably supported by Chesterpaul who is his exact opposite – bit of flair but more of grit and determination. Although he might be the smallest player on the pitch, Chesterpaul’s tenacity and speed are what make him very effective as a player. For someone of his size he manages to win a lot of duels in the air, which is a testament to his impeccable timing. The Ryntih defence were tormented throughout by Donbok and Chesterpaul, with the latter creating a lot of chances.

After conceding the goal, Ryntih began to start coming into the game and they began using their full backs to good effect. Their formation meant that their intention was to have their wide players, full backs or wide attackers, supply the ball into the box for the two strikers to attack. In the match, playing as full backs were Dawanpliedlad Myrchiang and Allen Camper Lyngdoh Nongbri. While Allen was able to get a few crosses into the box it was Dawanplielad who was bombing forward any opportunity. He combined quite well with Robert Khongjoh, who began the counter attack for Ryntih. It was, in fact, Robert who supplied a beautiful through ball to Badonkupar who should have scored. The weak shot which skirted wide of the goal will undoubtedly be the contender for the miss of the season. On the other hand, Allen and his attacking partner Wilbert Marbaniang were closely watched by Atlanson Kharmaw of Rangdajied.

Atlanson was one of the standout players for Meghalaya during the Santosh Trophy. A big reason for Meghalaya not winning more than one game was the fact that the defence kept conceding goals as soon as the team scored. This is where the lack of experience was exposed. The team will learn and improve and one person who could lead them in that is Atlanson. During the three matches against top teams like Bengal, Punjab and Kerala, he held his own and even got an assist for himself. Even in this match, especially during the first half, he calmly snuffed out any threats and made sure that the ball was retained for the team.

Rangdajied’s initial pressure paid off with a goal. Ryntih then began to make a strong comeback with Badonkupar and Dawanchwa having more influence on the game. Their physicality put a lot of pressure on Samuel and Poibiang, who were struggling against it. Restom’s deliveries into the box from set-pieces were especially very useful. While Rangdajied had used the pace of the attackers to get the goal, Ryntih kept threatening to do the same with their physicality. However, they could not break the deadlock and the first half finished 1-0 in favour of RUFC. But it was becoming very clear for both teams that things had to change.

Ryntih like playing with two upfront and whenever I have seen them play I have found them hesitant to change the system. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise that they decided to put an extra player in the midfield in the form of Dameki Khongstia. Allen was removed and Wilbert drop into the full back position. The introduction of Dameki gave Ryntih more control of the midfield and he was one of the better players for the club in the second half. Ronaldkydon dropped to become the single, deep-lying midfielder with Hardy moving up field.

Rangdajied also made their changes. Both Wansiewdor and Balamlynti Khongjee were withdrawn. Aiborlang took up with the centre back position with Samuel moving into the left back position vacated by Balamlynti. Wanlamsuk Nongkhlaw was the other player brought on who started playing as the central striker with Donbok moving to the left. Knerktilang moved into the midfield.

The introduction of Aibor immediately made a difference. The defence looked a lot more assured even though Aibor made a mistake that was unpunished. Upfront, Rangdajied now had three very quick attackers in the form of Donbok, Wanlamsuk and Chesterpaul. Because of Donbok, Dawanplielad’s runs were curtailed. This, however, brought out his defensive solidity. And while Donbok gave him the slip on a couple of occasions, Dawanplielad did his duty very well. Wilbert on the other hand, played very high on the pitch with the defence at times appearing as a back three of Restom-Mebankhraw-Dawanplielad. With Dawanplielad staying back, Hardy provided the width on the left side. Ronaldkydon began to have a more assured game with Dameki supporting him superbly. But while Ryntih began to have more control of the game, it was Rangdajied who were creating some of the better chances.

Knerktilang fluffed a chance to make it 2-0 for Rangdajied. It was not as bad a miss like that of Badonkupar but it was a squandered opportunity nonetheless. Wanlamsuk rounded the goalkeeper but his weak shot was cleared by Restom. Atlanson and Chesterpaul also had their shots but they failed to trouble the goalkeeper.

While the midfield was doing better and the defence was holding up, up front things were not clicking for Ryntih. Sheen Shoktung was brought on for Dawanchwa and later Wilbert was replaced by Bickyson Kharkongor. An important reason for the lack of effectiveness in the attacking half was Robert not having the same influence he had early in the game. It was only in the last stages of the game when Robert was able to outrun Atlanson and played a delicious ball into the box for Bickyson to attack. The latter was able to get a powerful header but it was off target. That was the last opportunity that Ryntih had to get back into the match. The match finished with Rangdajied emerging victorious over Ryntih.

Both teams will need to improve going forward if they want to have any aspirations of winning the trophy. For Rangdajied, Aibor has to play. They cannot afford to leave the centre back position lightweight again. Other teams would have learned from today’s game and they will attack that position. The midfield also has to be relooked to give more control in the game. While Wanlumsuk did a decent job when he came on, Donbok’s best position based on yesterday’s performance has to be central. Ryntih, by contrast, need to play an extra player in the midfield otherwise they will be swamped by teams who have a strong midfield. This will mean that the attacking formation will change, which is not a bad thing. Against stronger teams I don’t see a lot of goals from the present formation unless there is contribution from the midfield or the wide attackers. A change of formation may therefore help.

It’s really great that SPL has restarted after a gap of two years. Hopefully we can get to see more wonderful matches that have been on display till now. I am especially very thankful indeed to SSA for live telecasting the games this season. If I can’t go the ground, at least I can watch the matches at home. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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