CHENNAI : When John Gregory finally gets some time to himself tonight, he might be inclined to pull out his mobile and check the calendar. It may say 2019, but his Chennaiyin FC team appear to be stuck in last year. After four games last year, Chennaiyin had a point. Now, after three games and perhaps their most difficult game of the season coming up — away at Bengaluru — they find themselves with that same solitary point.
Their 0-1 reverse to ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Wednesday was down to the same ills that plagued them last year — an inability to score. The strikers might have changed but little else has. The second half on Wednesday was their thirteenth straight ISL half without scoring. Both teams went into the match with one change each.
While Gregory chose to omit striker Andre Schembri for Lithuanian forward Nerijus Valskis, his ATK counterpart Antonio Lopez Habas replaced forward Jayesh Rane with midfielder Pronay Halder. Habas also borrowed Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat’s strategy to employ winger Ashique Kuruniyan as a full-back – it was Michael Soosairaj to line up as a left-back on Wednesday.
Chennaiyin did not waste time from resuming from where they had left off against Mumbai City FC, in terms of profligacy. Barely three minutes had passed when Anirudh Thapa picked out Dragos Firtulescu on the right wing. The Romanian brought right-back Edwin Sydney into play and his cross should have been turned into the net by Valskis, who only managed to head over. Five minutes later, Valskis was at it again. A clearance from defence saw Chhangte unmarked out on the left. His low ball appeared an easy tap-in, but Valskis did not get a proper touch.
It was evident, with all firepower and physicality of the ATK forwards, that Chennaiyin would rue their profligacy sooner rather than later. That came soon after the restart. Prabir Das squared it to ATK Javier Hernandez, whose initial shot on goal was blocked. But the loose ball fell kindly to David Williams, who did not mess up a simple tap in. The goal provoked a reaction of sorts from Chennaiyin. Gregory withdrew Dragos and put on striker Schembri. Chennaiyin enjoyed a good spell but their wastefulness once again came in their way. In the 70th minute, defender Eli Sabia headed wide a freekick that he should have diverted into the net.
Barely a minute later, Schembri found himself through on goal after blocked shot bobbled through to him, but his effort was wide. Another five minutes had passed when Rafael Crivellaro’s deflected shot was pushed away by goalkeeper ATK Arindam Bhattacharya’s fingertips. The chances were coming thick and fast but it did not appear there was one person on the pitch in a blue shirt who could finish one off.