Indian Arrows have soared this season under the watchful eyes of Floyd Pinto. In their previous campaign, the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) developmental squad finished 10th with 15 points. In the current edition of I-League, they have not only surpassed the 15-point barrier but are currently on the seventh spot.
Although they lost 2-0 against Chennai City in their previous game, they made the league leaders sweat for the entire 90 minutes. A marked improvement from their 4-1 surrender in the reverse fixture which also happened to be their first game of this season. And one of the many reasons behind their performances going northward has been deploying the right players at the right position.
Boris Singh has been brilliant in the wide areas whereas, Deepak Tangri has shone as a defensive midfielder alongside Amarjit Singh.
"I have known Boris since he was scouted for the (U17) World Cup squad. Boris is an out and out winger. His main ability is to dribble past players, cross the ball and even score like he has done this season. So in the pre-season, we tried to get a good set of defenders and release Boris in the attacking third," explained Pinto in a chat with Goal.
"But unfortunately, Akash (Mishra) was injured. He had his first game against Minerva and he has been our first choice left back ever since we went to Serbia and Croatia tours. But his ankle injury was so bad that he got sidelined for months. So in order to cover for these players, we used Boris in defence.
"Another aspect of Boris is that he has a high work rate. He will help in recovering the ball and his fellow left back or right back, which is a quality that is expected in modern football. You not only play with the ball but also come back and help the team defend."
Boris has been used on both flanks and the right-back turned wide midfielder has impressed. Against NEROCA, the timing of his runs and the manner in which he kept his calm to score his first goal of this season shows his progress as a player.
Tangri, on the other hand, has been the anchor at the centre of he park. His presence allows Amarjit more freedom to go ahead and spray the passes which has brought stability to the Arrows side. His physical presence adds more steel at the centre of the park which becomes extremely important when the youngsters go up against teams which are more physically dominant.
"It is important to make the players feel comfortable with the ball and Deepak wants to keep himself busy with the ball. He is more suited to play as a defensive midfielder than a centre-back. A central defender has to hold his position and play but Deepak likes to go to the ball and get in the thick of things. His height is an added advantage.
"Against teams like Minerva (Punjab) and Real Kashmir, who likes to play direct he becomes our asset with his heading ability and high work rate. On set-pieces also he becomes a natural target-man due to his height. We are still working on his positioning and on the ball abilities. Within a year or two, he will grow into a well rounded defensive midfielder," opines Pinto.
Also, the emergence of Rohit Danu and Vikram Pratap has grabbed more eyeballs. From the U-16 set up, these two boys have seamlessly slotted in at the Indian Arrows team.
Danu has been prolific as he has already netted thrice with just 561 minutes under his belt. Whereas, Vikram has been a work-horse for Pinto and is growing up to be a potent box-to-box midfielder.
"First credit should go to Bibiano (Fernandes, Coach U-16 India team) for spotting him. He has been nurturing him well and Danu has responded as well. We have identified around eight boys who slot into Indian Arrows and from them, Danu and Vikram have straightway got into the first team. They are comfortable with the ball and it gives more confidence to the players around them as they exude calm and confidence. They also contribute defensively which is an important aspect. Danu's thought process is completely different as he knows where to be at the right time. That is why he is getting the goals. And his goal against Minerva is a testimony to it," reasons the Arrows head coach.
If these boys have upped their ante, a couple of players have struggled to maintain their form. India's only goal scorer in a FIFA World Cup, Jekason Singh has hardly got minutes this year. Sanjeev Stalin, who has earned plaudits for his set-piece skills, has failed to cement his place in the starting XI. Also, Abhijit Sarkar who had 15 appearances last season has started only twice this campaign.
"There is a lot of competition for places in Indian Arrows. We want to give them as much time as possible. They are working hard in training and their attitude has been second to none. Players need to adapt to various scenarios and play accordingly. To be fair to Jeakson, he got a thigh injury and took a bit of time to recover.
"Sanjeev, similar to Boris, is a winger. He will give you goals and assists and open up the game for you. But that position has been heavily competitive. His time will come in a short while. Abhijit was also injured. He got stamped on his Achilles in the Mohun Bagan game. He was unfortunate and now he is slowly getting game time. Both these players will take part in the coming games," says Pinto reassuringly.
With three matches still to go and the team in a respectable position in the league table the Goa-based coach will look to rotate his squad as he himself mentioned. The fringe players would lap the opportunities given that they would get to prove themselves against the likes of Mohun Bagan and Real Kashmir.