Pailan Arrows started the season with expectations that they will again bring out many new Indian players into the limelight. Last season, half a dozen of Arrows players made it to the national team, and this year with a sponsor (Pailan) and a relatively more experienced squad, followers were expecting even better.
Overall, Arrows ended up with a dismal record of winning only 5 matches out of total 32 which includes I League, Federation Cup and IFA shield. Furthermore, they scored only 26 goals (8 of those coming from two matches) showing an extremely poor goal conversion rate. TheHardTackle reviews the season for the AIFF Developmental side listing the most memorable moments of the season along with the best players, the best match and the flops of the season.
Under the tutelage of Sukhwinder Singh (Technical director) and Sujit Chakraborty (Coach), a new look Arrows squad started their journey with Federation Cup. They were clubbed with former I-League champions Salgaocar and two relatively weaker oppositions – Mumbai FC and HAL SC. From the start, Arrows looked like a team who are trying to rebuild themselves and sorting out the combinations, their performance was not the most convincing but still they managed wins against Mumbai FC and HAL SC. But after losing to Salgaocar, they finished 2nd in the group and didn’t qualify for the next round.
Arrows didn’t look any better in I League. Due to lack of firepower upfront and lack of creativity in the midfield, Sukhwinder Singh employed a defensive minded 4-4-2 formation mainly aiming to stop the opposition from scoring and trying to surprise them on the counter by employing long passes from deep inside their own half. He was partially successful as in their first 17 matches (after which Sukhwinder resigned), they maintained 4 clean sheets and conceded a solitary goal 5 times. But at the same time the long ball tactics failed which meant Arrows were not scoring much. In these 17 matches they scored only 8 goals and couldn’t manage a single win. Sukhwinder Singh resigned citing personal problems and Sujit Charkaborty took over the team with the help of goalkeeping coach Tanumoy Basu and later Narayan Menon joined in.
The new management took Rob Baan’s instructions (presumably on reforming the style of play). With the new tactical changes , Arrows shunned the long passing style, switched to a style which included both long passing and retaining the ball with short passing and short bursts of creativity mainly headed by George Alwyn and to some extent, Ajay Singh. After various tinkering and refining the strategy, Arrows clawed back and got two I League wins in the rest of 9 games. Those 9 games also saw them scoring 9 goals, which is more than what they managed in last 17 games. Even then the defence was not majorly compromised as they conceded 12 goals.
IFA shield can be considered as the turning point of Arrows this season. The tournament started just after Arrows were trying to adapt to the new changes and this tournament provided a good platform to try out some of the tactical experiments. They were clubbed with Pune FC and 2nd division team Ar-Hima. They started with a 1-1 draw against Pune FC and then thrashed Ar-Hima 5-0, finishing top of the group and qualifying for the semi finals. In the semi-finals they lost to East Bengal 0-1 after giving a good account of them.
The Highs of the Season
- Decent performance in cup tournaments. Reached the semifinals of IFA shield and finished 2nd in Federation Cup group stages above Mumbai FC and HAL SC.
- Providing the top Indian scorer of I League for 2nd consecutive season
- Bringing in exceptionally talented George Alwyn to the centre stage
- At the end of the season, they successfully adapted to Rob Baan’s philosophy by shunning the long ball style
- Extremely poor I League record, finishing 13th with only 2 wins and 17 goals scored.
- Apart from Sabeeth, no one else showed much profligacy in scoring goals.
- Not producing too many players who are in contention for the national team.
Best Performer of the Season
George Alwyn was added to the squad very late with only 9 I League games and IFA shield left to play. Despite playing for a short time, he instantly made an impact in the team. He was initially used as a support striker and as the Arrows tactics evolved he was given an attacking midfielder’s role. His abilities to dribble past defenders or sudden bursts into the opposition box are some of the refreshing changes seen in the team. It seems like finally Rob Baan got the player he wanted to impose the Dutch philosophy of “combining system with individual creativity”.
This 6’1” tall goalkeeper remained one of the busiest players for Arrows as he had to cope with waves of attacks. Some of the goalless draws and respectable defeats were due to his performances. Although, Naveen had been guilty of making mistakes in few occasions, his performances would still be among the important one’s this season.
CS Sabeeth has been frequently criticized as an over-rated player. But he showed, with good support from midfield he is perfectly suited as a finisher. Out of the 17 I League goals, he scored 9, including the only hattrick by an Indian player this season. His 9 goals also meant that he finished as the top Indian scorer in the I League
Defensive duo of Prathamesh Maulingker and Gurtej Singh sr.
Among the lower table teams, Arrows displayed a decent defensive performance. The center backs, Prathamesh and Gurtej played a pivotal role in this respect. Both the players, being solidly built and lanky, were competent enough to take on the foreigner strikers of I League. Without them the score-lines could have been embarrassing for the Arrows.
Biggest Disappointments of the Season
Sukwinder Singh’s approach
After Desmond Bulpin resigned, AIFF roped in Sukwinder Singh as the technical director of Arrows. Over the years, he has earned the reputation of being great with youth, be it at national stage or at club level. He also had the advantages of being more adventurous as Arrows were immune to relegation. However, he used defensive tactics and long ball strategy which didn’t work with the given set of players. The team lacked fluidity and serious questions were raised about the quality of the players in the team. Sukhwinder Singh’s resignation, in fact, turned to be a blessing in disguise as the Arrows turned into a much formidable outfit showing that with correct style of play they can be much more competitive.
Although Arrows played a defensive game, it is not that they never created much chances for the centre forwards. In fact, with the opponents playing with a high defensive line, the players did have their chances, but the goal conversion rate was woeful. Many combinations were tried upfront – Sabeeth – Ajay, Sabeeth – Bijendra, Sabeeth – Holicharan, but none seemed to be working. With the strikers failing to score, the opposition afforded more attacking display
Lack Of Quality In Central Midfield
Arrows midfield had Milan Singh, Bikramjit Singh sr., Loukik Jadhav, Gurtej Singh jr., all of whom had previous I League experience. But they couldn’t provide the quality needed in the midfield. They hardly retained possession, rarely showed creativity and skills and frequently destroyed good build ups by miss passing to the opposition. Next season, this is something the Arrows think-tank needs to work upon.
Memorable Matches Of The Season
The Arrows’ 2-1 victory over HAL gets our nod as the Match of the season. Arrows travelled to Bangalore with a convincing 3-0 win against Chirag. With HAL already relegated and their spirits down, Arrows controlled the game in the first half, creating many chances, eventually taking the lead through Ajay Singh’s strike. However, the game changed completely in second half, when HAL gave a spirited performance and quickly scored the equalizer.
HAL continued to attack and Arrows succumbed to the pressure and it looked like that they would not be able to reproduce their first half performance. As time went by, HAL showed signs of slowing down but neither side looked like scoring. With few minutes remaining, George Alwyn received a pass from the left, moved with the ball to the right edge of the box and took a perfect shot to the goal, surprising the goalkeeper and three defenders. The goal proved to be the match winner, giving Arrows their 2nd I League victory.
Apart from this game, Arrows gave a fantastic performance against the much superior Churchill Brothers (in Kolkata) in a match which ended 0-0, with Arrows having a superior possession and chances. The 2-3 loss against Prayag also saw Arrows playing very good attacking football in the second half, where they were dominating at one stage with the scoreline 2-2, but a brilliant counterattack goal by Mama made sure Prayag took all 3 points. It didn’t help Arrows’ cause that the ball hit the woodwork twice and once the referee missed a handball inside the penalty box.
Best XI of The Season
Written by HardTackle’s Guest Author Rudra Nayan Das. Follow the author on Twitter