From last Saturday to Monday, games in the Indian Super League (ISL) had goals following a long throw-in. It continued a trend that has seen nearly 10% of all goals in season eight having come from a restart move that involves the hand.
Against ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) on Saturday, Chennayin FC skipper Anirudh Thapa, known for arriving at the right time inside the penalty area and essaying defence-splitting passes, produced a long throw that got deflected into the path of Vladimir Koman who fired a screamer to make it 1-1 at the stroke of half-time. On Sunday, the 34th minute throw-in came from SC East Bengal’s Raju Gaikwad Tomislav Mrcela leapt into its flight path and scored with a header against Kerala Blasters. Then, NorthEast United FC’s (NEUFC) Tondonba Singh flung the ball deep into the Hyderabad FC penalty area following which Laldanmawia Ralte scored in the 43rd minute.
According to data provided by the league, three of NEUFC’s six goals have been following a throw-in. In second place on that list are SC East Bengal (SCEB) for whom Gaikwad’s ability to hurl the football long has come in handy. In all of the last season, SCEB had scored three goals following a long throw. This term, they already have two in six games. Gaikwad’s throws have led to six shots for SCEB this term.
“The throw-in of Raju is not normal, the throw-in of (NorthEast United’s) Mashoor (Sheeref) is not normal. The other day it was Tondonba; I didn’t know (about him). The long throw-in is very dangerous. Usually, the reason for throw-in is some player has the option to flick the ball but in this case they can head the ball directly and score like the other day with Raju and Mrcela,” said Hyderabad FC coach Manolo Marquez on Friday.
SCEB coach Jose Manuel Diaz Fernandez said using long throws is an important part of their game. Speaking through assistant-coach Angel Garcia who translates from Spanish, Diaz said: “That is because our players have a very good performance during in this aspect.”
Last season, 13 goals came following throws. That’s 13 goals in 115 games or 4.4%. After 29 games, which produced 101 goals, that number is nine (9.3%) this time. Till after Tuesday’s game between Jamshedpur FC and Odisha FC, a total of 77 attempts on goal had happened within 15 seconds of a team taking a throw-in, according to ISL.
Not an advocate of the idea, FC Goa coach Juan Ferrando said one of the reasons why long throws have become so important is the size of the pitches in Goa. “It is so close (small) that it makes long throws easier. Those throw-ins are really like a corner-kick. When the ball is in the air, it is 50% for the team defending and 50% for the offensive team. This is like it was in the Premier League 10-12 years ago,” he said.
It was something of a trend at Stoke City in the time Ferrando mentioned. There was Rory Delap who did that with aplomb between 2007-2013 and Ryan Shotton who preceded him at the club. Exactly how important throw-ins are can be judged by what Liverpool did. On way to winning the Premier League in 2019-20, Liverpool scored 13 goals after throw-in situations and in the season prior they had the best percentage (68.4%) for throw-in possession under pressure. Both happened after they signed Thomas Gronnemark as throw-in coach whose specialises in “the long fast and clever throw-in.”
Last season, Cheltenham won League 2 using central defender Ben Tozer’s long throws as an attacking weapon. Analysing Cheltenham’s use of the long throw, Total Football Magazine posted a YouTube video which pointed out the thought and training that went in. Some players would crowd the goalkeeper, others would position themselves inside the six-yard box to prevent him from coming out and collecting the ball and at least two would be near the edge of the 18-yard box to intercept a clearance. Often, a Tozer throw would be aimed at the crowded near post with a flick on attempted towards the far post where space would open up.
In the 1990s, Naushad Moosa, now assistant coach at Bengaluru FC, was known for his high arcing throws. The next decade had Air India’s Uttam Singh. After 2010, Dhanachandra Singh, who has won two ISL titles with Chennaiyin FC and the I-League with Mohun Bagan, showed arms that could fling the ball a fair distance. So this isn’t new in India. What’s possibly unique about ISL8 is that a number of coaches are letting players wipe the ball with a towel and throw it far in search of a goal. So far, Rahul Bheke and Regan Singh (Mumbai City), Ashutosh Mehta (ATKMB), Sheeref, Tondonba and Gaikwad have stepped up. “There are more players for sure in the league (who can throw deep),” said Marquez.
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