With the qualification for the play-offs a mathematical possibility for both teams, rivals Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters clash in their Indian Super League (ISL) match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Friday.
Chennaiyin (ninth on the table with six points) would have been better placed had Jamshedpur FC not denied it a win its last game owing to a controversial late equaliser.
Isaac Vanmalsawma’s 89th minute goal, which took a wicked deflection of his teammate Farukh Choudhary’s hand, meant Chennaiyin couldn't fully profit of the new coach bounce in the form of Owen Coyle’s appointment.
The postponement of the away fixture against NorthEast United, two days later, would have come as a welcome relief for the Scotsman Coyle, who took charge of the squad a couple of days before the Jamshedpur game. Ahead of his first home game, the head coach can hope he can begin the recovery process having had the opportunity to acquaint himself with the players.
While hinting at the possibility of a new signing in January, Coyle also said: "The focus right now is making sure our current players perform well. I watched all the games. There have been a couple of games where the club has been unlucky. We want that bit of luck. We have to bring everybody together.”
First order of Coyle’s reign will be sorting out the defensive record which has been maligned by lapses and poor luck. Chennaiyin has conceded a goal each in its last three matches after the 80th minute while two of them have cost the side four points.
Blasters (placed eighth with seven points) could also make a case for ill-fate with luck, injuries and errors halting their progress. The team has let in three goals in as many matches in the final quarter of the second periods which has extended the club’s winless run to seven matches.
Blasters assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed reiterated faith in head coach Eelco Schattorie’s methods, despite the team’s position on the points table mirroring last season’s run after eight games.
“I think the previous season is completely different. The brand of football is very different. We have dominated matches but there have been errors. But that is due to a lack of concentration. Despite having a lot of injuries, our players have shown a lot of character. We have dominated teams like Bengaluru FC, FC Goa etc. We are working on the individual errors and hopefully, we can improve,” said Ahmed.
Last year, too, a struggling Chennaiyin and Blasters faced off here at a similar juncture of their respective faltering seasons. Both teams played out a dull goalless draw as they finished bottom of the table.
However, with the possible return of key striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and a firing Raphael Messi Bouli in its ranks, Blasters will be hoping to end its win drought.
And with the returns of four goals from three matches for forward Nerijus Valskis, Chennaiyin will seek to hit a full refresh button with a win on Coyle’s home debut.
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