I-League: Nandakumar’s tactical brilliance guides dark horses TRAU

Manipur based club Tiddim Road Union Athletic (TRAU) and their coach Nandakumar Singh have been a revelation in the I-League so far. The dark horses are perched at third spot on the table with 10 points in seven matches, three adrift of leaders Churchill Brothers FC Goa.

Although many critics would have brushed TRAU off for a mid-table finish, Nandakumar’s tactical genius has ensured that they belong with the leading pack and are not letting go anytime soon.

So far, 75 per cent of TRAU’s goals have come in the first 15 minutes of matches. Komron Tursunov’s nine-second strike against Real Kashmir and then a sixth-minute goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Aizawl FC prove how Nandakumar’s team adopts a highly attacking stance in the opening quarter of the match.

Counter attacks have been the go-to strategy for TRAU. They have made an average of 2.7 passes to find the net and 67 per cent of their goals have come from counters, meaning a swift blitzkrieg reaps dividends for them time and again despite having a conversion rate of just 28 per cent.

Although TRAU have conceded seven goals so far, they have the second most challenges in the league with 88, narrowly behind Chennai City FC with 95. With 51 defensive challenges, TRAU’s back four has kept out the likes of Clayvin Zuniga and Luka Majcen. However, two clean sheets to their name is an indication that there is still room for improvement in the defence.

Coach Nandakumar has been vocal about his team’s abilities and his wards have seldom let him down.

“I am not surprised that we are in this position. The squad has the ability and the potential to be here and stay here. However, at the same time, we cannot take anything for granted and we have to keep working hard and fighting in every game,” he said.

But can TRAU go on to win the I-League? “We are taking one match at a time and each match is like a final for us. We have to keep gathering points and keep continuing our form. Winning the league is not the focus, our next match is,” Nandakumar said.

Even in the latter half of the season, TRAU seems to be hanging out with the big boys of Real Kashmir, Churchill Brothers, and Mohammedan SC, matching step for step and point for point. A solid defensive performance in 1-0 win saw TRAU execute counter-attacking football to the fullest, with the only goal of the game coming in the 6th minute through star striker Komron Tursunov.

What remains to be seen is if TRAU will be able to continue their stellar form that has left teams frustrated with their style of play, or will they fall prey to complacency as the season progresses.