"Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles." Such were the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the most decorated managers in the history of football. Boasting a CV better than most, Ferguson is indeed the game’s greatest. And, for several such reasons, John Gregory looks up to the Scot. However, the Chennaiyin gaffer doesn’t seem to currently get anywhere close to the aforementioned wise words of Ferguson.
Indeed, the defensive line of the Chennai-based outfit looks broken. The attacking unit doesn’t seem threatening either. With three back-to-back losses, the defending champions now sit at the bottom of the table, with no points in their kitty. In what once seemed to be an off day at office is now slowly turning into a worrisome trend for Chennaiyin and their fans.
On Thursday, a re-energised and newly-shaped Chennaiyin side started off in high spirits. Tweaking the squad, the boss made way for Carlos Salom in attack, which meant Nelson Gregory had to be sacrificed to fit the foreign striker in place of Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was rightly dropped from the first XI. Isaac Vanmalsawma and Thoi Singh, who were involved in two of the three goals registered by the hosts, were among the other alterations made by Gregory.
However, the biggest change of the night was in the shape of the team and not the roster. Gregory opted for a three-man defence which saw Francisco Fernandes slotted in the right-side and pushed Inigo Calderon deep in the midfield. This, perhaps was the main reason for Chennaiyin’s embarrassing loss to NorthEast United.
The home side drew the first blood, and it came as early as the fourth minute. Isaac, known for his set-piece abilities, delivered the ball from a corner which was mistakenly guided into his net by Rowllin Borges’ header. Although an own-goal, it helped increase Chennaiyin’s morale. 11 minutes later, Chennaiyin extended their lead after Jerry Lalrinzuala’s lobbed delivery met with the feet of Isaac, who slotted in into the path on an onrushing Thoi Singh. Sending it past Pawan Kumar in goal, Thoi registered his first ISL goal under Chennaiyin. The Manipuri went on to add another in the 32nd minute through his clumsy finish, off a Raphael Augusto cross.
But by then, NorthEast United had already given Chennaiyin their first punch in the gut. In his first of three goals, Bartholomew Ogbeche fooled defender Eli Sabia in the box. The Brazilian failed to keep Federico Gallego in check and also couldn’t stop Nigerian Ogbeche from scoring. A bottom right-corner finish eventually left Sabia lying on the floor in distress.
The shabby defending wasn’t limited to Sabia in the backline - the defenders completely lost the plot after the first half hour. Giving birth to the hopes of a comeback, the prolific Ogbeche got to the end of a near-perfect long ball from Rowllin, to register his second strike in the 32nd minute. While Karanjit should have done better with the gloves, Francisco didn’t live up to his defensive duties as he was positioned far away from his marker.
The third goal, which was the equaliser and also successfully completed Ogbeche’s hat-trick, exposed Chennaiyin’s vulnerabilities to the fullest. The ever creative Gallego once again preyed on Chennaiyin’s weak midfield to release a through-ball for Ogbeche up front. It was too late for the defenders in blue to read the attack as Mailson Alves was left chasing the Nigerian forward, while all the rest of the defence hardly moved to track back, very well knowing that they had lost the grip on the game.
Although the two teams walked at the half-time whistle on a 3-3 scoreline, with much left to fight for in the final 45 minutes, the Chennai side looked demotivated after losing their lead. Little did they know things would get worse in the latter half. Walking on to the field, with no changes made, Chennaiyin aimed to improve their ball possession. But, they couldn’t keep the visitors quiet, who flew to the southern part of the country with three points in mind.
In the 54th minute, an action started by Gallego saw Raegan Singh whip a diagonal ball from the right flank in the box. Unable to fully clear the danger, Mailson failed to get the ball away from NorthEast United’s men, and Rowllin got hold of the loose ball. Thapa, who couldn’t contain Rowllin’s run, allowed the defensive midfielder to make up for his earlier error by netting the fourth goal, which turned out to be the winning strike.
Trailing after having a respectable 3-1 lead, a worried Gregory made an attacking change to bring in Jeje Lalpekhlua and Andrea Orlandi but the damage was done and Chennaiyin had bowed down to the Eelco Schattorie-coached side. Jeje, much like his recent form, was guilty of missing the target, inches away from the goal, in what was the side’s last chance of redemption.
The result means Chennaiyin have registered three losses on the trot. The side looks defeated, lacks confidence and needs a change in plans. Nothing seems to be going their way. Perhaps, the fault lies in the coach’s tactics as much as the players’ shortcomings. The departure of Henrique Sereno in defence and the absence of Dhanpal Ganesh in midfield is slowly but largely being felt, and Gregory needs to find a fix for that. Youngsters Jerry and Thapa too need to regain their usually impactful form, and Jeje cannot afford missing sitters.
With two away matches lined up in the coming week, Chennaiyin have to bounce back at the earliest. And, captain Calderon knows how to achieve that. "In football, there are no miracles. It’s just about working," he said. The onus is now on the team and its staff.
Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 16:18:48 IST