As soon as the referee blew the full-time whistle at the Marina Arena on Saturday, the Chennaiyin FC faithful let out a satisfactory cheer, having seen their team eke out a 1-1 draw against East Bengal in their Indian Super League 2023-24 match.
Head coach Owen Coyle was seen thanking the fans with his team. ‘Chase Fight Conquer’ - the tifo read, and the Marina Machans had adhered to the motto, having fought back to grab a point.
“When I came back, my aim was to ensure that this club fights and qualifies for the playoffs again, and with the quality we have, I am confident we can do that.”Owen Coyle after the match
Anyone familiar with Coyle would know that he does not mince his words. For a man who guided Jamshedpur FC to the league shield against all expectations in 2022, a draw is never a satisfactory result.
But on a night marred by Ayush Adhikari’s own goal, Ryan Edwards’ red card, and Jordan Murray being sent to the hospital after a head injury, the Scotsman chose to focus on the positives.
“Of course, we rescued a point, but in the balance of the game, we could have scored three. The goal we conceded was a catalogue of mistakes, but it happened against the run of play,” Coyle said.
One could pinpoint Chennaiyin’s inefficacious finishing - Murray’s howler of a miss in the 14th minute, Irfan Yadwad’s inability to find the target from point-blank range and failure to capitalise on Rafael Crivellaro’s pinpoint cross in second-half additional time. But the CFC boss said that he would be concerned if his team was not creating chances at all more than the missed opportunities.
From a manager’s point of view, the Scotsman had some satisfactory moments. At a time in the second half when Chennaiyin’s approach-play looked tepid, to say the least, he shuffled the pack by bringing Ninthoinganba Meetei and Jiteshwor Singh.
The tactical change was spot-on not only because of Ninthoi’s eventual equaliser but the overall shift in the gears. Vincy Barretto also put on the afterburners, which put the Red and Gold defence under pressure.
“I was delighted at Irfan and have high hopes for him. I have some things that I have got to teach him because I played [in his position]. But he certainly has the potential to be a very good player. Then, Ninthoi came back after being injured and put in that performance. Also, Vincy [played well]... the show of character after going down was unbelievable,” added Coyle.
An interesting point to note is that the clash against East Bengal was a classic example of the CFC youngsters pulling up their socks on a night when the senior members of the squad weren’t at their best.
Before Murray’s game was cut short unceremoniously after his head injury, his finishing boots were missing. Cristian Battochhio, apart from a couple of aerial through balls, looked distracted in midfield. Crivellaro was the only senior member who did not fail to exude his class with his vision and was pulling the strings as usual. On such a night, youngsters like Ninthoi, Irfan and Vincy guided the ship out of choppy waters and helped the Marina Machans clinch a point.
Coyle said that the key is to be realistic about the goals. On paper, his team is not as heavily stacked as some other teams in the league. “When I came back [to Chennaiyin], my aim was to ensure that this club fights and qualifies for the playoffs again, and with the quality we have, I am confident we can do that, ” the Scotsman said.
Seventh in the table with seven points and travelling to Kochi next to play the Kerala Blasters at their fortress, it will certainly not get any easier for Coyle and his boys.
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