There were many missed opportunities for Rangdajied United in yesterday’s SPL match against Malki but the latter did have a great game, with Bhogtoram Mawroh singling out Lucas Syngkli as a player who was the man-of-the-match in his eyes.

One thing which has always exasperated me about Rangdajied United is they somehow find a way to mess things up for themselves.

In the last few years, they were contenders for two Shillong Premier League titles, in 2017 and 2019, but ended up as runners-up to Langsning and Shillong Lajong respectively.

Langsning in 2017 were not the all-conquering 2018 team and Rangdajied were expected to win the final comfortably. However, in an ill-tempered match, Langsning came out victorious with, if I remember correctly, 10 men during the last few minutes.

In 2019 there was no final – the team at the end of the league stage with the most points won the title. Rangdajied were unbeaten throughout the league but still finished behind Lajong.

In a pure league, with no knockouts, every single point matters. Every game is like a final, especially when the tournament is very short. Yesterday was the day when Rangdajied should have taken the winning momentum from the last match and made sure they got the three points. But they ended up with a draw.

In this game, Rangdajied decided to rest a host of players who played the previous match. The team that took the field was almost completely unrecognisable from the last fixture. It was a 4-3-3 but the personnel had changed drastically. Except for the goalkeeper and the right back, Banshanlang Sten and Balamlynti Khongjee, the entire back line had changed. In came Khrawkupar Jana and Niawkorlang Kyndiah in the centre back positions. Denzel Warjri came as left back. Raikutshisha Buam and Maxderidoff Wahlang kept their places in the middle of the park but this time they were joined by the highly-talented Oresterwell Langshiang. In the attack Chesterpaul Lyngdoh was replaced by Wanlamsuk Nongkhlaw supported again by Donboklang Lyngdoh and Knerktilang Buam. The changes were not about benching players who did not perform in the previous match that Rangdajied won but was more about rotation. This is despite the fact that Malki had won their last match against Mawkhar. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Malki also played with a 4-3-3. The backline was marshaled by captain Fernando Malih and Lucas Syngkli who were supported by Nikel Ryntathiang playing as the left back and Michael Marwein as the right back. March Marbaniang and Kenny Kharnaior played as the two holding midfielders in front of the defence with Emboklang Nongkhlaw in the number 10 position wearing the number 10 jersey. Kyrpadlang Tariang played as the central striker supported by Kordor Dkhar and Donboklang Mawlong. Finally, in goal, was Rihoklang Khongjoh. If this was a team that Rangdajied thought they would roll over they were in for a big surprise.

In only the first minute itself a mistake by Rangdajied’s defence was pounced upon by Malki, which led to Emboklang releasing a shot from outside the box. The shot was, however, a weak one and did not trouble the goalkeeper. That was a warning sign that this was not going to be an easy match. Rangdajied immediately hit back with couple of chances of their own, which fell to Donboklang Lyngdoh, who was not alert enough for the first chance and was wasteful with the second. Initially, his partnership with his striking partner Wanlamsuk worked quite nicely. Wanlamsuk got a chance to shoot at goal twice but both times did not trouble Malki’s goalkeeper Rihoklang too much. But as the half wore on, Malki began to grow into the game.

While they may not have had much of the ball, Malki were very organised and played with great energy and tenacity. Their front three of Kyrpadlang, Kordor and Donboklang Mawlong press Rangdajied’s defence high up the pitch, making sure that they were not given too much time with the ball. The holding midfielders, March and Kenny, immediately pressed any time a Rangdajied midfielder got the ball a little high up the pitch. In support, the defence also moved up. By doing this they were able to squeeze the field of play and made it easier to close down the opposition players. This highline tactic was highly risk considering Donboklang Lyngdoh’s pace. But the fact that Chesterpaul was not playing meant that Malki only had one speedster to worry about. And since Donboklang Lyngdoh was not having a particularly good game, they were able to keep Rangdajied relatively quiet after the initial forays early in the half.

With the team superbly organised, it was then up to Emboklang to be the creative outlet. Apart from the shot that he took in the first minute of the game, he also supplied a through ball to Kyrpadlang, who was able to chip the ball over Rangdajied’s goalkeeper Banshanlang but missed the target. Having played for Bengaluru FC’s youth team, one could make out that Emboklang is technically quite good; he has good control of the ball and uses his body very well to shield the ball. However, he will have to work on releasing the ball at the right time. On more than a couple of occasions he was either dispossessed or the opportunity to play a key pass was lost because he held on to the ball a little too long. One player, though, who knew exactly what he had to do and was able to execute that was Lucas Syngkli, who had a super game.

Initially Malki’s defence came under some pressure but they soon took control of the situation. This was primarily due to the defensive work of Fernando and especially Lucas. Good in the air and possessing a keen sense of game awareness, Lucas was a colossus in Malki’s backline. While Fernando wore the captain’s armband and was the more aggressive and vocal of the two, Lucas was always in the right place at the right time. Whether it was clearing the danger with his head or his boot, he did his job superbly. For me, you can tell a centre back from the way he runs and Lucas looks like one hell of a centre back.

There were, of course, a couple of occasions when he was found wanting. Early in the second half he looked complacent and out of sorts. His first touch also needs some work. In possession as well he could do a little better with the ball. But these are things he can always improve upon. For me Lucas was one of the contenders for man-of-the-match. Are they giving those for every match? They should.

Malki’s defence, marshaled by Lucas, had to be extra vigilant when they went down to 10 men early in the second half. March became the second player from Malki to get a red car in the last three games. While I think Malki’s coach, Kitkupar Kharshiing, must take credit for the way he organised his team, he must also take the blame for the ill-discipline his players have shown, which resulted in them losing one match and drawing another. It is his responsibility to maintain discipline among this players, making sure they don’t become a liability.

In the same manner, Aiborlang Khongjee, Rangdajied’s coach, must take responsibility for his team dropping points, although Malki played a very good game. His team selection was a tad arrogant, especially when he rested important players like Atlanson Kharmaw and Chesterpaul Lyngdoh, especially with Malki playing a very high line. Chesterpaul was brought on later but by then Malki had become difficult to break.

When a team goes down to 10 men, either they capitulate or they become more determined not to concede. Unfortunately for Rangdajied, it was the latter. In such a situation, what the attacking team needs is a special player who can open defences with his skill and vision. Rangdajied had one such player but they were unable to utilise him in the proper manner.

I think I have said this before – for me, Oresterwell and Sangti Janai Shianglong are the two most talented young prospects in Meghalaya at the moment. Although Sangti has gone on to play for the state in the Santosh Trophy and had become a crowd favourite in Kerala, I have always rated Oresterwell a little higher. This is because he has a more varied passing range and a better vision. While Sangti is a player who likes to travel with the ball and looks to play a one-two with his team mates while attacking, Orester can create from almost anywhere on the ground.

It was he who started the move which led to Wanlamsuk getting a fantastic opportunity to score a goal. But, just like Badonkupar Marbaniang of Ryntih, he missed an opportunity, which, like some fans were saying in the stands, he won’t get again until 2023. And then there was the thunderous strike which hit the crossbar from close range after he was able to create space to shoot with some neat footwork. Orester is a player who, with proper guidance and if he keeps himself humble, can become one of the best. But it is his versatility that is proving to be the problem for him at the moment.

In the three-man midfield, it was Raikut who was playing as the most advanced midfielder. Maxderidoff was the holding midfielder with Orester supporting him. Time and again in the first half Orester had to drop deep to receive the ball or help his partner. This was understandable in the first half when Malki were playing with 11 men and were pressing as a team. But in the second half when Malki were a man down and Rangdajied were looking to win the game, he was still coming deep to receive the ball. This was a complete waste of an opportunity. Either both Orester and Raikut could have played together upfront or Raikut could have dropped deeper and let Orester play as the most advanced midfielder. From that position, the possibility of Orester playing a key pass or taking the shot himself, which would lead to a goal, was higher.

Finding the best position is something that is of utmost importance for not just Orester but also Raikut. During a particular season I remember Raikut playing as a striker, which was highly surprising considering he is not suited for that role. It is clear that Orester and Raikut are two players who are going to be (if they are not already) the future of this team. But in order for them, and consequently, the team to prosper, their roles in the team need to be evaluated. Rangdajied should learn from how Sangti is being handled by Shillong Lajong and the strides the player has made. In this Aibor has to play a very important role.

Aibor could have played much longer for the Indian team if it wasn’t for the change in the national coaching staff. His fate was similar to that of Rocus Lamare. Rocus was given the opportunity to play for the national tam by Savio Medeira and would have become India’s mainstay if the coach had stayed. Similarly, Aibor was brought into the team by Wim Koevermans, Savio’s successor, who didn’t fancy Rocus. When Wim left, the new coach Stephen Constantine did not have Aibor in his plans. Now Aibor is a coach himself and it remains to be seen what his impact and legacy will be. Right now the jury is still out.

As for the game itself, it was a wonderful match. Congrats to Malki for getting a point out of a difficult situation and all the best to Rangdajied for the future. Hopefully we can have more such games in the future with the only tweak being just a couple more goals to make it more exciting. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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