Chennai, November 28: Climbing to the top is easy; staying there is the most difficult job. Chennaiyin FC have realised that defending the title they won last season, just like others before them, isn’t easy. In fact, they are in danger of giving up on their play-off hopes even before this edition has reached the halfway stage.
Chennaiyin’s title-defence is precariously poised as they look to renew hostilities with fierce Southern rivals, Kerala Blasters FC, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai, on Thursday.
The defending champions are struggling in the ninth position with just one win and a draw to show from eight games. A defeat against Kerala Blasters could possibly end any realistic hopes of John Gregory’s men reaching the play-offs.
The Marina Machans have looked nothing like the sturdy and resilient outfit that stunned Bengaluru FC in the final last season. The famous defensive solidity has gone and the side ended up conceding 16 goals.
Even the goals have dried-up. It has not helped that ace marksman Jeje Lalpekhlua, who scored seven goals last season, has hit a dry patch and is yet to open his account.
So how do Chennaiyin FC turn their season around?
“It’s very important for us to get all three points. Our players have to realise the importance of the match to our fans as well. They suffered in the first game when they lost to Bengaluru FC because of the banter. There is a lot of pride at stake. We need a victory and get back in the race somehow,” said Gregory.
Gregory put his team’s failure to notch victories to individual errors. Although the players have remained the same, they are no longer “reliable.”
“Many of our players were reliable last year. We haven’t quite had that this time around. Players you would expect not to make errors have made errors,” said Gregory.
Kerala Blasters are not having a good season themselves. After an opening day win over ATK, they are yet to register a victory and are placed seventh with seven points.
The Men in Yellow have struggled to score goals and when they have done, holding on to their advantage has been an issue. It was evident in their last game against NorthEast United FC when they ended up losing 1-2 despite leading 1-0 till the 90th minute.
“I’ve looked at the problem in every angle, especially the last-minute goals. The Mumbai goal I could not do much there because the player (Pranjal Bhumij) decides to try a long-ranger and it goes in. Against Delhi, the player (Andrija Kaludjerovic) was clearly offside when he scored and Sandesh (Jhingan) was down injured.
“Against NorthEast, the penalty is given (against Sandesh Jhingan) in the 90th minute. One player was not allowed to go in after being fouled and we were 10 vs 11 at that time despite suffering a foul. We are talking about decisions which are not going our way,” said the former England goalkeeper.
He would now hope to turn the season around with another win, while Chennaiyin FC would be looking to arrest their slide. We are in for a tasty battle on Thursday night and no team can afford to lose.