We spoke to the coach about the positives, mistakes and lessons after the disappointing 2-0 defeat to I-League favorites Churchill Brothers. Here is what the gaffer had to say

Sudeva Delhi FC Media Team 

It’s been a difficult couple of days in the team hotel here in the Hero I-League bubble. The realisations of the past month are clear and stark. But those realisations didn’t quite translate on the pitch against a formidable Churchill Brothers side at the historic Mohun Bagan ground in central Kolkata on January 25. 

Going into the game Chencho Dorji felt he had seen enough of the competition to make a fairly accurate assessment of the league and where Sudeva were in the pecking order. All the talk about a young squad, and one that is fielding only Indians, is now well behind us. The previous three games — against Mohammedan Sporting, Indian Arrows and Real Kashmir — had provided plenty of tests and Sudeva emerged from those tough encounters with more than a few positives. A strong central defensive pairing and organising from the back were at the top of that list. The coach knew a good result against the strongest squad in the competition was not a pipe dream, but a very real possibility. All we had to do was stick to the program and do our bit. On the day, though, the gap between planning and execution proved too vast to bridge.

Dorji handed club debuts to several squad members with a view to countering Churchill’s strengths and best design his tactical approach. Lovepreet Singh, 22, the six-and-a-half-foot goalkeeper who joined the club before the start of the season got his first start — with the message One Love writ large on the back of his jersey. Abhishek Ambekar, the experienced left-back who came in from SC East Bengal and India Under-19 forward Manvir Singh both made encouraging starts to their Sudeva careers. Perhaps most encouraging was the glimpses of raw talent displayed by 17-year-old Rustom Phairembam. The idea: to take the game to Churchill and show, right from the start, that Sudeva has the ability to play ball no matter who the opposition.

“It is vitally important that every member of the squad knows he is here to do a job and has a chance to play depending on the opposition and our tactical approach,” said Dorji after the game. This was in response to our question about whether the head coach had decided on a Best XI. “We have a lot of talent and ability and the starting lineup will depend on both performance in training and the opposition we face. For example, knowing Churchill will press us high up the pitch, particularly in the first half, led to an opening for Lovepreet because of his ability with the ball at his feet and good distribution.” 

The mood in the dressing room and the dugout was buoyant before the opening whistle. In fact, Sudeva made the more promising start to the encounter creating a couple of decent chances. Central defender Sairuat Kima was on the receiving end of the best of these chances but he just couldn’t manage to get above the ball well enough. The resultant header, at the far post, sailed over the bar. What followed was the most painful half-hour of the I-League campaign for Sudeva. Team defensive lapses and a bit of luck allowed Luka Majcen and Bryce Miranda straightforward chances, which the duo converted. Coming back from two goals down was always going to be a hard ask for Sudeva. Dorji made all five permitted changes in the second half and, though Sudeva seemed to dominate possession and play with more intent, Churchill remained resolute and well-organised at the back. “When we go down, the boys’ heads drop,” said Dorji. “It is very difficult for Sudeva to come back from that. I find we are lacking in neither ability nor understanding of the game. But, at least on this day, our zeal, focus and motivation wasn’t one hundred percent.” 

Dorji is obsessive when it comes to reviewing matches, breaking them down and analysing both the positives and mistakes of the side. Right after the game, on the bus ride home in rush-hour Kolkata traffic, he was on the phone, watching the game again. On average he will watch all 90 minutes of every game at least five times before giving his boys feedback on their performances. Though disappointed with the result, Dorji concludes a few minor tweaks in Sudeva’s mentality can turn things around very quickly and give us a chance to progress into the later rounds of the competition in the top six. “We have to start taking the game to the other teams,” was his opinion. “And, if we can take advantage of the situations we create for ourselves, as well where the opposition stands, we will get the results. The next game against Punjab FC is not “Chencho vs Chencho (Gyeltshen, Punjab FC’s Bhutanese forward)” or any sort of grudge game as far as the coach is concerned. “What it is is a great opportunity to get three points on the board and get back on track. After that, we face Chennai City. Our target is two wins from these two games, which will put us in a strong position ahead of the 10-day break in fixtures.” 

Sudeva Delhi FC next plays RoundGlass Punjab FC on Jan. 29, 2pm, at the Salt Lake Stadium. You can watch all the games live on 1Sports on Facebook and all major cable/satellite networks. Sudeva Delhi FC Media would be happy to facilitate any media interactions with playing and coaching staff. Please write to us with any queries.