ISL 2017/18: Chennaiyin's second half showing against Jamshedpur gives Gregory much pride
Chennaiyin FC came away from their ISL contest against Jamshedpur FC on Sunday evening with a 1-1 draw. Looking for three points that would almost confirm their place in the playoffs, John Gregory's side were forced to dig deep by a dogged Jamshedpur side who were also looking to do their playoff chances some good.
Mohammed Rafi came off the bench and scored in the 89th minute of the game to pull Chennaiyin level after they had gone down to a Wellington Priori stunner in the first half. The home side were made to work for the equalizer by a resolute Jamshedpur team, but eventually, their pressure paid off as Rafi's looping header over the defence from a Rene Mihelic corner broke Jamshedpur's resistance.
After the game, Gregory was delighted with his team's showing: "My face probably doesn't show it, but yes, I'm delighted. To be perfectly honest after that second half performance we deserved all three points. It was an incredible performance and incredible effort from my team."
"Nobody can be prouder of their team in the ISL as I am right this minute. This is our fourth game in 12 days and we've had to travel as well. I won't name individuals, but a lot of our players have played all four matches. The way we dominated the second half really showed what we're all about. We got the ball, kept the ball, passed it. We've got young kids playing in our team; young boys, very inexperienced and they didn't shy away from anything. Some of the individual performances were really colossal", Gregory added.
Late goals have been a common theme for Chennaiyin this season, a fact Gregory highlighted himself. "For us to continue to score goals in the final minutes of football matches, which we've done a lot this season, shows you just how switched on and focussed we are", he said.
Egged on by a boisterous home crowd, Chennaiyin put in a superb second-half showing to get something from this game after a first half where they were largely insipid. Jamshedpur did well to shackle them and Gregory's side looked disjointed.
When asked what he told his side at half-time, Gregory replied: "Nothing, just to keep going. When we played ATK two weeks ago in Kolkata we were 1-0 down at half-time and we just carried on playing. We have boys in the squad who have good fitness, good endurance. And as we did in Kolkata, we just kept playing. That's what we did in the second half; we just kept passing the ball."
Jamshedpur began to sit back deeper and deeper as the second half progressed as Chennaiyin almost laid siege to their goal. "The times the opposition got the ball, they basically smashed it back into our half of the pitch and we would start another attack. It was almost like a training session at times. I shall look back on it and think maybe if one or two balls had fallen more favourably to us in the opposition's penalty box, we could have won the game", conceded Gregory.
He also acknowledged the support of the fans in the team's comeback: "It was a huge effort and honestly I've never heard the fans as noisy as they were today. To get people off their seats, you have to give them something. I don't think many people got up off their seats in the first half. It was a little bit stale. But in the second half, I don't think anybody ever sat down. Until the final whistle, they were noisy. Certainly, it was the noisiest I've seen throughout the season."
While he was full of praise for his side's comeback in the second 45, he accepted that they weren't up to the mark in the first, attributing some of it to the number of games they've played recently.
"You're playing against a team that's very fired up and very direct. They press very high and get the ball forward very quickly. They don't really pass the ball through the team, they get it straight up front. They target knockdowns and second balls around our penalty area. They scored from the one and only shot they had in the first half. And obviously they had a lot of energy; they've not played in quite some time. And as you know, we played three days ago in what was a very, very demanding match against FC Goa. So we've used up a lot of energy in those games", Gregory had to say.
"Expecting Jamshedpur to come out at us the way they did in the first half, to be perfectly honest, I was happy we were only down by one."
Going into the game, Gregory said that his side doesn't have a disciplinary problem. But, central defender Mailson Alves picked up a yellow card, his fourth, for an attempted push on Andre Bikey netting him a suspension for the next game.
"When you suggest to certain players to not get involved in certain situations, saying it is one thing, but to be able to walk away from them is another. As I said Ganesh needn't have gotten involved against Goa on Thursday and today Mailson need not have. He should have walked away from that situation", lamented Gregory.
He did add though, that the defender has been making progress in that department: "I do believe he's actually improved though from earlier. As a central defender in the ISL, he's done remarkably well I feel to go through the season without picking up four until now. He's been a real giant for our team. But I've got a good squad and I'll have lots of boys ready to replace him."
The point takes Chennaiyin up to 28 points for the season, still two ahead of Jamshedpur in fourth and four ahead of Kerala Blasters in fifth
Chennaiyin travel to Kochi to face Kerala Blasters in their next game on February 23rd.