CHENNAI: ONE of the best traits of Chennaiyin FC has been their ability to adapt and play with any combination. They have been a formidable unit at home. When Elano Blumer was the skipper of the side, the Brazilian had said that the ambience of the city, its sports loving public and dedicated owners propelled the team to give its best. Elano was of the opinion that even after his term with the Blues comes to close, he had strong reasons to believe that the incoming players will continue to impress for Chennaiyin, since it had the best team management and owners in the league.
Manager John Gregory, who joined the team last year, too, believed in Elano’s words and has guided the MS Dhoni coowned side to the knockouts. On Friday, Gregory had said that he would like to make a couple of changes in the lineup against Mumbai City FC, but ended up making eight changes instead, with Pawan Kumar being the new goalkeeper and Fulganco Cardozo getting his first game. His faith in the new-look team was vindicated as Chennaiyin beat Mumbai 1-0 at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here on Saturday.
After the first-half went goalless, Rene Mihelic made no mistake from the penalty spot in the 67th minute, giving Chennaiyin the breakthrough. That eventually proved to be the difference. His intelligent strike was beyond Mumbai goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya’s left glove. Sources in the Chennaiyin team think-tank revealed before the game, there were talks that the team should not be complacent and go for a win. “We told the boys that whatever the combo, it is always good to enter the semis with a win. We told them not to be complacent,’’ revealed the source.
True to Gregory’s words, Chennaiyin players began in earnest with Jaime Gavilan, Bikramjit Singh and Mihelic combining well, excelling in ball possession and keeping the Mumbai defenders on high alert. During one such phase, Rene went close in the 17th minute. Mumbai, too, with an effervescent Lenardo, an alert Sanju Pradhan and Lucian Goian combined well. They tried to raid the Chennaiyin’s citadel but were kept away by the hosts’ stubborn defence. Saturday’s victory helped Chennaiyin finish second on the points table and also helped them avoid the prospect of facing in-form Bengaluru FC in the last-four stage.