It required 10 matches for Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa to feature in a game that failed to produce a result. A result may have been elusive, but CFC would be the happier of the two, heading into the second leg of the semi-final on Tuesday, thanks to that vital away goal by substitute Anirudh Thapa.Chennaiyin FC players during a training session ahead of the semi-final against FC Goa Chennai: Though disappointed at its failure to preserve its lead, Goa wouldn’t be unduly perturbed by that setback considering there is no dearth of quality strikers in its ranks.
What is more, Goa is one of only two teams to have beaten Chennai at its home this season and how it would dearly love to reprise its first-half heroics the last time these two teams played in Chennai. On that occasion, Goa banged in three goals in the first 45 minutes to virtually put the match beyond Chennaiyin’s reach.
But Chennaiyin is a vastly different team to the one that took the field that evening. The personnel have remained the same, but the mindset and formation have changed irrevocably for the better. Therefore, any nefarious designs of an encore by the bull-headed Gaurs can be dismissed as wishful thinking possible only in cloud-cuckoo land.
Like a meritorious student, the barometer of Chennaiyin’s gradation was reflected in the first two seasons of the Indian Super League. From being a semi-finalist in the inaugural edition to laying siege to the crown under the most nerve-wracking of circumstances, against who else but Goa, in its sophomore season, the marauding army of Chennaiyin enjoyed an extended honeymoon period luxuriating in its hard-earned spoils.
The third year marked the culmination of that Cinderella story which led to the parting of ways by manager Marco Materazzi along with his retinue of Italian assistants as the team retreated into the backwater of mediocrity.
After going astray from its intended path of a last four berth, the new manager John Gregory had the Sisyphean task of making his players conversant with his brand of aggressive football as opposed to his predecessor’s dour style that won him few admirers although it fetched his team the trophy. So far, the club owners’ have been vindicated by their decision to appoint the Englishman.
The phlegmatic character that he is, Gregory betrayed no signs of nerves on the eve of the crucial fixture. “We worked extremely hard the other night to earn a draw. We deserved the outcome. I was disappointed with my team missing two or three clear chances. Nevertheless, I’m delighted to come away without a deficit and of course the away goal means a lot. All we need to do for us to go through is to keep a clean sheet. That is our first priority,” said the 63-year-old.
Gregory wasn’t disconcerted by striker Jeje Lalpekhlua’s inability to get back on his feet after a prolonged slump in front of goal. “I just keep supporting him as much as I can. He has the ability to deliver the goods at any given stage. I have huge amount of faith in him. Any striker will go through the phase that Jeje is currently experiencing, but he is working very hard,” added Gregory.
Can Gregory and his boys take another step closer to a momentous finale against the high-flying Bengaluru FC? As is its wont, time will once again have the final word.