Both head coaches were understandably in contrasting moods following the game.
NorthEast United moved a step closer to their first-ever ISL playoffs, as they defeated defending champions Chennaiyin FC 1-0 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.
Chennaiyin, on the other hand, have suffered their 10th loss of the season and failed to add to their poor points tally. NorthEast’s talismanic striker and captain Bartholomew Ogbeche scored a screamer in the 87th minute, to give The Highlanders all three points and took his tally to 10 goals for the campaign.
After the match, it was the visiting team’s coach John Gregory who addressed the media first. Talking about the changes he made to the playing XI and the overall squad he said, “One of my central defenders has not played one minute this season. So, that was his first game and he did very well for us.”
“We’ve got two kids at right and left-back, with a total lack of experience. We had three players making their debut today and we’ve obviously had one or two changes in the lineup too”
“But, they all fought fantastically well. They went about their jobs as best they possibly could and there was just no way that NorthEast were going to score tonight. In fact, I was kind of expecting us to go nick one the way that the game was going, but then obviously something else happened,” he further added.
Gregory then talked about his new recruits CK Vineeth and Holicharan Narzary and their impact on the game and said, “In the first half, we just fell short a little, but in the second half, I think both Hali and CK looked a little bit short of match practice. I thought they both tired quite quickly. Hali being away with the national team and CK hasn’t really had that much match practice lately.”
“They obviously joined training last week and haven’t had a lot of time with us and I think it’s just a little bit of question of time really, getting settled in and getting what we want them to do for us. I’m sure next week you’ll see both in a much healthier frame of mind and obviously physically a lot better,” he added.
This is the second time that Chennaiyin have lost both of their matches against NorthEast in a season. Talking about the opposition Gregory said, “I think they’re a lot more confident. When they step out on the field they play confidently, they play with freedom. I think they’ve been together now for six months. So, everyone knows what their job is, as they move the ball around the pitch well and don’t panic at all”
“I think early in the season a lot of people maybe took them lightly, as in their previous seasons they didn’t have a particularly good winning record or winning mentality. They caught a lot of people by surprise early on. But, everyone’s very aware of them now. They’re not a surprise anymore. So, they’re going to find it difficult to continue to pick up points in the remaining matches,” he concluded.
NorthEast’s gaffer Eelco Schattorie was quite impressed with his team’s performance on the field, but did talk about his overdependency on Ogbeche and said, “We had maybe five-six very clear open chances that we missed and we should have had a penalty from what I understand. The part the Indians (players) deliver is good, but if you compare our team to other teams, I give myself a lot of credit regarding Bart (Ogbeche) and Federico.”
“We absolutely depend on these two and I wish we had more such scoring players, but that’s what I have to work with. So, I give myself credit that we are in this position,” he added.
The tactician then took a dig at Gregory regarding the point the latter made about NorthEast being less of a threat for the remaining five matches and said, “We created five or six open chances, if that means that they know how we played and then should’ve tried to avoid that. I respect his opinion, but I don’t believe it or otherwise we wouldn’t have created so many chances.”
“Yes, we depend on Bart and Federico and that’s how we are. I think other teams have better Indians and foreigners in terms of quality, as we had the lowest budget. This is not rocket science, this is very simple,” he added.
The Dutchman finally talked about their chances of making it to the playoffs and said, “We have played 13 matches so far and lost only twice. From the beginning of the season, yesterday was the first time that I had all my players available for training. Right from pre-season, where we are now is a fantastic achievement and I hope we can continue that.”
“I made a plan and gave it to the management and a part of that is fulfilled. I do think that we really must stick together and work very hard to get the results. The closer you get to reach your goal, the more difficult it becomes. We can refer it to the Indian National team, their last game was a mental game and our remaining games are also mental games now”, he signed off.
NorthEast will now travel to Bengaluru to take on undefeated Bengaluru FC on the 31st of January whereas Chennaiyin will play host to FC Pune City on 2nd of February