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LCS’ failing tactics

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — As football becomes more tactical than technical, it is safe to say the pioneers of strategic discipline in Lesotho football are LCS.
Previously, league titles had been won based on a side’s natural skill, like Matlama in 2003, blood-and-thunder determination, epitomised by Likhopo in 2004/05 and 2005/06, or a mixture of all — LDF’s three championships in 97, 98, 99 being classic examples.
It can be argued that until recently, even the national side was never accustomed to any recognisable playing system.
Lesotho’s road to the Cosafa Cup final in 2000 — the 2-1 semi-final win over Angola in particular — was based on displays of passion, special to the Likuena group of 1999 to 2002.
But when LCS danced to consecutive championships in 2006/07 and 2007/08, things changed.
A clear, systematic and methodical approach to every 90 minutes of football was born.
Before then, local sides played without any rigid formation or special formula for winning matches.
That was until Katiso Mojakhomo took charge of LCS in 2006 and set about turning Masheshena into Lesotho’s most feared outfit.
A religious 4-3-2-1 formation was adopted with four defenders, a midfield anchor, two wingers — who could tuck in or hog the touchline — and with two shadow strikers behind a sole front-man.
It’s a system LCS’s then assistant coach, Moshe Lephoto, said was copied from English side Arsenal.
Players were recruited to fit both the style and system — and it worked.
LCS performed miracles, including a 13-0 win over Butha-Buthe Warriors on May 6, 2007 which ultimately gave Masheshena a goal-difference 2006/07 championship win over Matlama.
The sole striker in LCS’s two title campaigns was — as is now — Thabane Rankara.
But crucially behind him was Makalo Mehlala, the physically imposing forward forced to retire last January because of an eye injury.
Refiloe Potse was the other withdrawn forward and the ability of the two to roam, effortlessly adding numbers in attack or defence, was a nightmare for the opposition.
With width also an essential ingredient, goals flowed.
LCS scored 120 goals in their two title-winning campaigns.
Then in 2008, Masheshena won three of the four trophies available in the calendar year — the league, the MGC Supa 8 and Vodacom Soccer Spectacular. LCS missed-out on the Imperial Top 8.
2008 also saw LCS beat South African Premier League side Platinum Stars 1-0 in the CAF Champions League (although Masheshena eventually lost 1-4 on aggregate).
However, a combination of factors — the crushing disappointment of being denied a Champions League return in 2009 and the rise of Lioli among them — have caused a sudden fall from grace for LCS.
Teams have also worked out how to counter Masheshena’s style.
When Likhopo beat LCS 1-0 on the 2009/10 Premiership’s opening day, Bishop Molatoli’s side adopted a high-pressure, pressing game, flooding the midfield and giving LCS no time to dictate play.
To a certain extent, Matlama did the same in their 1-0 Vodacom Soccer Spectacular final win over Masheshena in November.
The loss of players has affected LCS as well. Without Mehlala, the prisons side lack variety to their attack.
Rankara still scores, but because of his stocky stature, is unable to hold the ball up when the need arises or be a threat in the air like Mehlala used to.
This was illustrated in that Vodacom Soccer Spectacular final where Matlama’s defence dominated as LCS tried to knock the ball up to Rankara.
As a result, LCS were unable to release or create pressure.
Key players have also simply not been up to the task, lately.
Left-back Khoto Sesinyi — LCS’s secret weapon in the past with his marauding runs — has been a pale shadow of himself.
His crosses are lacking, his penetration minimal.
Potse — the side’s top scorer in 2006/07 — has moved to the base of midfield (because of injury problems) but he has struggled with his distribution.
Meanwhile, talented ball-players Ramashalane Taeli, Ralekoti Mokhahlane and Lawrence Molengoane have become victims of LCS’s now monotonous style.
The major sufferer has been Molengoane, whose languid style hasn’t found a place at LCS.
The striker is at his best alongside a target-man, linking play and plundering goals as he did when topping the Premier League’s scoring charts in the 2007/08 season for former club, Matlama.
But Molengoane — who joined LCS last January — wasn’t a favourite under Mojakhomo and 2009 was a forgettable year for Lesotho’s most expensive player.
That has meant LCS do not have a playmaker who controls the tempo of the game, especially during big matches.
For LDF, Molefe Lekoekoe does this job in his own way; Matlama have Lehlohonolo Mokhele while Motlalepula Mofolo was beginning to pull the strings for Lioli before the festive break. The result is LCS have failed to beat any of the league’s top sides — losing to LDF and LMPS on identical 0-1 scorelines and 0-4 against Bantu.
LCS will now start 2010 knowing further slip-ups in the league cannot be afforded.
The four-time winners of Lesotho’s top flight — twice as Lesotho Prison Services (LPS) and twice as Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) — are six points behind pacesetters LDF.
And the task could not be more daunting.
This weekend, they travel to Mohale’s Hoek to face a Majantja side already battling relegation
Last season, the two sides drew 0-0 in a similar fixture.
LCS then travel to Pitso Ground to face Matlama who have designs on the league themselves and who beat them twice last season.
That is followed by a difficult task against Likhopo.
To top-it-off, Masheshena are due to host champions Lioli in the first week of February — a match which could decide their league fate.
The greatest challenge for LCS though, is to find freshness in a side where age and staleness could be the biggest enemy.
This is the task confronting Ribbo Ramakau as he takes the Masheshena reins this week after Mojakhomo’s dismissal last October.
Over the course of a season, there are many twists and turns, but LCS need to refresh a set-up that was once the most feared and revered in Lesotho.

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