For someone whose team was in the middle of a winless run, Thomas Brdaric spoke with a lot of composure.
Before his side’s game against ATK Mohun Bagan – it was the fifth match in a row that Chennaiyin FC failed to win – Brdaric said, “I see a lot of progress. The team is settled and the players have a better understanding of each other. But it is not reflecting in the results. It is a tough job to go to the next level. But we are very close.”
On January 21, Chennaiyin FC displayed the “progress” it had made under its German coach as it outplayed ATK Mohun Bagan for much of the game. But once again, it didn’t quite show up in the results column as the sides settled for a 0-0 draw.
After the game, Brdaric, again, chose to see the silver lining. “Before the season, if you told me we will take four points from ATKMB, I would have been a happy man. I am proud we are competing with teams like them. But we can improve in some spells. If we show a little more composure, we will get more opportunities to win,” he said.
In Chennaiyin’s defence, the winless streak was against some of the toughest matches in the competition, with clashes against all teams of the top-four. The two-time ISL champion succeeded in holding three of those teams to a draw, while running Mumbai City FC close in a 1-2 defeat. The defeat notwithstanding, its performance against the league leader is an achievement in itself given the standards Des Buckingham’s side has set in the league.
With six games left and a five-point bridge to overcome to get to a playoff spot, Brdaric will be hoping that his side now starts to get good results.
East Bengal started the ninth season of the ISL with renewed hopes under a new sponsor. Its bottom-of-the-table finishes in the previous two seasons had given fans little to cheer for, and looking to reverse the trend, the club had hired former India coach Stephen Constantine.
That was a big announcement. Constantine spoke of presenting a more entertaining brand of football for the fans.
Fans appeared at the venues in big numbers after restrictions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted. East Bengal started to suffer repeated setbacks. Initially, thousands of fans were present to cheer for their club, but the numbers gradually lessened as East Bengal floundered on home soil, quickly slipping to the bottom half of the standings.
Constantine did oversee some good performances, but it wasn’t enough to bring the supporters back to the galleries. The team regularly took to social media to connect with fans, but the lack of success on the pitch hampered all its efforts – it tried to excite its millions of fans into believing that the country’s top league title will be returning home after a break of almost two decades.
East Bengal had last won the National Football League title in 2004. Its supporters are therefore being made to put up with the longest wait yet for the club’s name to be back in the rolls of honour.
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