CHENNAI: As the referee blew the whistle for full time in Chennaiyin FC’s match against Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday, their coach John Gregory looked an exasperated man. It was a game in which Chennaiyin should have scored multiple goals in the first half alone. Yet, here they were, forced to share points after a 0-0 draw with Mumbai.
Scoring has never been Chennaiyin’s forte under Gregory. Even in the title-winning season of 2017-18, Chennaiyin, en route finishing second in the league table, scored just 24 goals, a tally that even Delhi Dynamos in eighth place bettered. They were the only team to score less than 30 goals and still qualify for the play-offs. In the horror season that followed, they were bottom of the league in terms of everything including goals scored — their strikers managed just 16 goals all season.
With Chennaiyin opting for a completely-new strikeforce this year, there was hope that they would finally shed this reluctance to score. The likes of Lithuanian striker Nerijus Valskis, Maltese forward Andre Schembri and Romanian Dragos Firtulescu was supposed to add bite to the attack, as was the capture of India international Lalrinzuala Chhangte. But, if the match on Sunday and their 3-0 defeat to Goa in the opener were any evidence, old ills remain.
Schembri missed a chance to score within the first minute after being fed by Rafael Crivellaro, while the Brazilian midfielder himself was guilty of off-target shots from dangerous positions on several occasions. Valskis, who came on in the second half, could have won the game for his team more than once.
“I was frustrated that we did not score 3 goals at least,” Gregory said. “They couldn’t get the ball off us in the first 20 minutes. We are frustrated we were not ahead. We stopped doing the good things we had done well after that. In the second half, I thought it was a matter of time before we scored. Amrinder made a good save. Nerka (Valskis) had a good chance.”
But Gregory was hopeful that things would improve once the players became more familiar with each other. “Thapa, Rafa, Dragos, Chhangte are all good technical footballers and they have to be in the game,” he said. “It was as if all four of them suddenly were not in the game. You look at all the good teams, people like (FC Goa’s Edu) Bedia and (Ahmed) Jahouh are always in the games. We need to have that in our team. Masih (Saighani, the Afghan midfielder) got into the game when he came on. It is almost a brand new team and we are beginning to get to know each other.”