Sudeva Delhi FC beat Indian Arrows 3-0 to register their first win of the I-League. Kean Lewis, Mahesh Singh and Shaiborlang Kharpan scored for the debutants from Delhi.

By Sudeva Delhi FC Media

Late last night, long after his team had beaten Indian Arrows 3-0, immortalised a moment in the club and the I-League’s history with a celebratory photo taken on a deserted Kalyani Stadium pitch, Kean Lewis centred his thoughts on the day before the game. 

“It’s what we spoke about yesterday actually,” he says. “It was important to get three points. It was important to get on the scoresheet. And we went a step further. We kept a clean sheet too.”

If the opener was a moral victory — words that meant little to nothing to head coach Chencho Dorji and his players — this one was steeped in desire and willpower. It was more than just three points. It was the monkey off the back. It was a taste of blood.

“It is super important for young players to get a victory,” Lewis says. “Some of them got some minutes in the previous game. They’ve just started their pro careers. They faced defeat in the opener. And everyone knows how bitter the feeling of a loss is. I’ve played for so many years, and I still hate that feeling. They now know what victory feels like and they need to relish it. Carry that into the dressing room the next time they come in.”

Since the victory was historical it was also planned. The coaching staff and players admit to making changes strategically, tactically and even mentally to bounce back from an opening loss to Mohammedan Sporting. Personnel changes were made to the starting XI, ones that contributed to changing their gameplan against a young team.

“We deliberately switched from Ansh to Mahesh [Naorem] for this game,” Lewis says. “They are two different kinds of players and the idea for this game was to be more offensive-minded. Mahesh is left-footed, he dribbles more, he creates spaces for others, like me, to exploit.”

“Against a young team we were confident that if we lost the ball our defence would cover and win it back, and so the decision was made to sacrifice a more box to box minded player.”

The change reaped high dividends. Within five minutes, Mahesh’s left foot had carved the Arrows defence open. Receiving the ball from the back, the youngster from Manipur turned, looked up and released his captain with a superb long through ball. Lewis picked it up just outside the box, danced into the box and from an acute angle shot at goal. Ahan Prakash made the save, but the tone of the game was set. The duo ended up scoring a goal each in the game and was instrumental in anything creative that came through in the game. For Mahesh, who did not start the game against Mohammedan, it was a statement performance.

“It is great to score obviously. I always want to score,” Mahesh says. The 21-year-old has experience of doing so in the I-League, scoring at will in his time at Shillong Lajong. “Before the game, the coach told me to play in a free role, which is what I love. My role was to initiate attacks and dictate the game when we had the ball and I tried my best to do so.”

In a game highlighted by the Indian talent on display (both teams have all Indian squads), Sudeva’s experience and tactical guile shone through. But Lewis had encouraging words for the youngsters in blue. 

“I know Mahesh [Gawli] from my own time as an Under 15 player at Mahindra. I’ve seen him play and I’ve been a fan of his as a kid. Now he is coaching kids in an age group that is most malleable for the future of football. This is a steep learning curve, and I can say with confidence that they will do well.

“These kids are playing at the top level of the game. They will make mistakes. They will lose games. But what they learn by playing and losing cannot be replaced. You learn different things when you lose and different things when you win. It’s your job to apply the lessons to your next performance.”

With three points, three goals and the first victory under their belt it is safe to say Sudeva Delhi FC have made some mistakes learnt from others and keep moving ahead. Satisfaction is a feeling, but it is fleeting. Mahesh for one is not taking things lying down. His one regret is the free-kick that kissed the outside of the post and stayed out. 

“Tch,” he shakes his head. “I have absolute confidence in my freekicks, and I really should have scored that one. But it is okay. Overall also it gives us scope for improvement. We played well in certain areas and will need to do better in others. When we face Real Kashmir in our next game we will have to think up different solutions. That’s the game.” 

Sudeva Delhi FC takes on the Real Kashmir on 19 Jan 2021 at 7 pm. Catch all our 2021 Hero I-League games on the 1Sports network (available on all major cable and DTH platforms. Click here for info on your service provider). We are the national capital’s first, and only, I-League club and we need you to build the football movement in our city. Sign up now to become a member of your club. Follow Sudeva Delhi FC on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Be a part of this exciting new chapter in Delhi’s football story!