ISL: Kerala Blasters, Chennaiyin FC play for pride

Chennaiyin FC has a chance to move up to ninth place with a win by two goals or more on Friday.

Kerala Blasters players warm up on the eve of the match.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Coach Nelo Vingada will be eyeing his first win as Kerala Blasters FC takes on bottom-placed Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League’s southern derby here Friday.

Vingada has overseen draws for Kerala against ATK and Bengaluru along with a defeat to the Delhi Dynamos. The former NorthEast United coach will be hoping to be fourth time lucky as the defending champion comes to town.

Kerala has just one win in its kitty so far and is winless in 14 games, resulting in dwindling attendance figures. Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory was not complaining.

“From my point of view, I will be happy if the stadium is empty coming here. The support you (Kerala) had in your stadium last year, I was gobsmacked. Trust me, I would love to have that support at home. It is one of my biggest mysteries, why Kerala have never won the ISL in five seasons,” said Gregory.

The lack of goals has been Kerala’s biggest undoing this season with the side managing just 15 of them in as many matches. Only one player — Slavisa Stojanovic (four) — has scored more than one goal for Kerala in the current campaign and it is no surprise the side has struggled.

“The next game is always the most important and the most difficult. After three games (in charge), you have some balance. Now, we have to ensure that our team goes up,” said Vingada.

Chennaiyin, on the other hand, comes into the game with a chance to lift itself off the bottom after what has been a title defence to forget.

“I think everybody is motivated. We want to take nine points in the next three matches and finish in a position where we will be happier. We have a chance to catch up on points with Kerala,” said Gregory, who has captain Mailson Alves back in contention after a three-game suspension.

Having so impressively captured its second league title in 2017-18, Chennaiyin has looked like a shadow of its former self in a campaign riddled with 11 losses so far.

Despite its woes in the season, Gregory’s men will come into Friday’s clash in buoyant mood having recently recorded only its second win of the campaign. The 2-1 win over league leader Bengaluru was a reminder of the defending champion's prowess.

One of the biggest positives for Chennaiyin from its win over Bengaluru was the return to goal-scoring form for star forward Jeje Lalpekhlua. The Mizo sniper will be eager to score a few more before the season ends and.

With plenty of pride at stake, the match also sees C. K. Vineeth and Halicharan Narzary, who are on loan at Chennaiyin from Kerala, turn out against their parent club with a point to prove.