The Chennaiyin FC players had left the Nehru Stadium wondering about the two points lost rather than the one gained after their final home game against Bengaluru FC on February 9 (Sunday).
Back in November, with the club languishing at the bottom of the ISL table, anyone associated with the team would’ve accepted this result against the defending champion without batting an eyelid. But things had changed.
Chennaiyin might have won a record-equaling second league title (2017-18) under John Gregory, but it also had several unwanted records under his reign last season. It secured the fewest points (9), least number of wins (2) and most defeats (13) by any team in the history of the competition.
The players looked worn-out all season, the footfall at the stadium going on a steep decline and a title-winning team reduced to an also-ran.
There were widespread calls for the club to replace Gregory and the Englishman almost announced his resignation at the end of last season's campaign.
The club, however, decided to stick with him, hoping for a change in fortunes.
After a barren run in front of goal in the current season, Chennaiyin pulled the trigger in late November and announced Owen Coyle’s appointment in the first week of December. Since then, there has been a dramatic transformation - from the mood around the club to its fortunes in the league.
“Ideally any coach will want a pre-season. But when you inherit a squad, you have to quickly ascertain what’s at hand,” said Coyle after taking over. “Looking at the squad, I think there are some very good players here. Our job is to try and get them to the maximum level.”
Coyle has been successful in his efforts too. He has unlocked the attacking potential of the team and embraced an entertaining style that has also brought back fans to the venue.
“We do play with an element of risk because we had to play like that from where we were (bottom of the table),” said Coyle addressing concerns about the side's porous defence.
While CFC still concedes goals at a similar rate (1.67 per game under Gregory and 1.4 under Coyle), its striking ability has improved drastically. After scoring just four in six games (0.24 goals per game) under Gregory this season, Chennaiyin has found the back of the net 25 times in 10 games (2.5 goals per game).
Under Coyle's influence, Chennaiyin has garnered 20 points out a possible 30 and vaulted to fifth in the table. The club, whose season looked like it was over even before it began, can now secure a playoff spot by defeating Mumbai City FC in Mumbai on February 21 (Friday) – and that too with a game in hand!
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