ISL 2017/18: "Quite an incredible feeling really," says Chennaiyin coach after his team reaches final
Chennaiyin FC booked their place in the final of season four of the Indian Super League after a 3-0 win over FC Goa in Chennai on Tuesday evening. A brace from Jeje Lalpekhlua and another from Dhanapal Ganesh put Chennaiyin into the final, 4-1 overall on aggregate after the first leg in Goa had finished 1-1.
The home side had to withstand a lot of pressure to begin the game but took control with two quick goals. A delighted John Gregory, the coach of Chennaiyin FC, was delighted with the result and after the game spoke about how the effort they put in was important.
“We put a lot of faith in our defence. Goa put a lot of faith in their attack,” Gregory said. “To get into our team, you need to put the effort in. We ran ourselves till the end and showed endurance. My players are very fit.”
He added: “Football-wise, we are not as technically gifted as Goa. They are difficult to play against and they pinned us back in the early stages. We could do nothing, but hang in there and that has been what our team has been built on - the ability to hang on and then get up the other end to take our opportunities.”
Jeje opened the scoring in the 26th minute when he was presented with a free header in the box. In doing so, he broke a seven-game scoring drought.
Gregory opined on Jeje’s showing on the night: “He has always played on his own this season. It can be a lonely job and sometimes if you don't score, you don't get recognition. He has been working really, really hard. In fact, in the first leg in Goa, he ran himself into the ground. Same today. He puts in the effort every time.”
The Chennaiyin striker had frittered away a few chances in the first leg in Goa, but Gregory mentioned that it was about making sure he didn't lose confidence.
“He missed a chance in the first leg but he knows that if he keeps working, he will get something. The first goal was classic Jeje. The third goal, you could see, was greeted by the whole stadium,” said Gregory.
The season almost came a full circle for Chennaiyin; they began their campaign against this very same opposition at this very venue. They were down 0-3 inside the first 45 minutes on that day, but came back to within a goal, losing 2-3 after Gregory rang the changes at half-time. Since that first half, Chennaiyin have only conceded twice against the Gaurs in seven halves of football.
Gregory admitted that it had indeed been a remarkable journey since then.
“At half-time after the first game, I was thinking what the hell have I done,” Gregory revealed. “But we had a good second half. We changed the shape of the team which benefited the team. One or two people didn't fit in our roles and we became more difficult to play against. Defensively we were strong. I looked at my players and it was better to do it the way we did and we did not look back from there (that game).”
When asked about how Chennaiyin have managed to withstand sustained pressure from their opponents through the season, Gregory opted to direct the praise towards his players.
“We've obviously got three foreign players in our defence and Jerry. Goa tended to load their team up in attack with foreigners. We've got three experienced players playing with a 19-year-old left-back. We've worked on our positional sense and they pick it up very quickly because of that experience. They take on board my advice well and they are leaders on the pitch as well. These three boys interact with everybody and have fantastic attitude,” said Gregory.
Coming to the final, the Chennaiyin coach said the feeling that his team had made it there was yet to sink in fully.
“We haven't done anything yet. We've just reached the final. Looking forward to the weekend now,” he exclaimed. “The emotions of reaching the final might hit me a bit later possibly. It's quite an incredible feeling really.”
He made it clear though that his team are not happy just to have made the final: “When you go to a final, you have to make sure you win it. That's what people will remember. People talk about enjoying the final, but you enjoy it only if you win it.”
The final will be a southern derby versus Bengaluru, led by India skipper Sunil Chhetri. Asked what plans they have to shackle him, Gregory said that it'd be nothing special.
“Not planning for Chhetri. We just go about our job as normal,” he said matter-of-factly. “We have people who have won the ISL before. Their experience should help us in the final. Bengaluru are a very good team and they play a bit like Goa. Albert (Roca) has done well to keep his team in contention despite playing in multiple competitions.”
He signed off with a joke saying: “Hope he plays his full team tomorrow (AFC Cup).”