ISL: Chennaiyin, Jamshedpur to battle in race for playoffs

Back in contention after a 1-0 win over FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC faces a gritty opponent at home.

Chennaiyin FC players train ahead of their penultimate home game in the league stage.   -  V. Ganesan

According to Jamshedpur FC coach Steve Coppell, ‘defensive mistakes, a piece of brilliance or refereeing decisions’ have played a major role in the outcome of many Indian Super League matches this season. The Englishman was certainly alluding to the moment of magic conjured by Wellington Priori, when his bicycle-kick gave his side a 1-0 victory over NorthEast United.

Ahead of a must-win encounter against another playoff contender in Chennaiyin FC, Coppell said he will look for more moments of inspiration to take his side closer to a last-four place. Jamshedpur has scored only 15 goals in 15 matches and sits fourth in the table behind Sunday’s opponent at the Marina Arena.

‘No easy games’

“Goal-scoring is something we look to improve on. FC Pune City has two strikers (Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro) who score goals out of nothing. Against NorthEast, we scored a goal against the run of play. At this stage of the season, when there are teams so close together, there isn't a great deal between all the sides. There are no easy games in this competition. Football should be won on individual brilliance. Like most teams, we are capable of scoring goals, but perhaps we might need to craft them a little bit more than some teams who have marquee players,” explained the former Manchester United winger.

Make or break for Jamshedpur

Jamshedpur is in the middle of a good run with five wins in its last six matches, a fact noted by opposition manager John Gregory. For what it lacks in the final third of the opposition's final third, the ISL newcomer has made up for it in its own box with a water tight defence. Veteran goalkeeper Subrata Pal has played his part in keeping seven clean sheets conceding only 12 goals in the campaign thus far - the best in the league.

January signing Wellington, formerly of NorthEast, has proved to be a valuable addition in defensive midfield to aid Coppell's style of play. He has also chipped in with two goals. Tough tests await, starting with Sunday's clash, which is followed by a trip to Bengaluru before its last league clash against FC Goa at home.

"Time will tell if we are peaking. We have three difficult games from here. We are happy to be here. We are happy to be playing the best teams, so if we make the playoffs then everyone can say we deserve to be there. We don't want an entry to the last four through the back door," said Coppell.

Chennaiyin on track

Chennaiyin, on the other hand, is back in the race for playoffs after a nail-biting 1-0 win over FC Goa.

“We find ourselves in a much better situation (after the win over FC Goa) and it’s in our hands,” Gregory said ahead of his side's penultimate home league match. “It’s the same for Jamshedpur. There are games where we can decide whether or not we will go into the playoffs. We need to win the remaining matches. It’s in our hands. I have got three matches left and I want my boys to win all three.”

Defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh and winger Gregory Nelson will be forced to watch Sunday’s match from the sidelines as they are serving suspensions. Chennaiyin will be without the services of Dhanpal for the second time this season; Dhanpal now has eight yellow cards. While Gregory labelled the yellow card against Goa as a “needless” one, he is not intent on curbing the midfielder’s style of play.

“He (Dhanpal) gets involved in midfield and is never afraid to tackle. He does all the things required of a midfielder. He will need to learn from situations, like the one against Goa and learn to walk away,” said Gregory.

Coppell hopes for a game of “care-free checkers” in a battle between two highly organised defensive teams. However, with three vital points at stake, a game of chess may instead be played out.

Points Table

ClubPlayedGoal DifferencePoints
Bengaluru FC161534
FC Pune City161329
Chennaiyin FC15427
Jamshedpur FC15325
Kerala Blasters FC15-121