The club has staged a miraculous comeback in the league and eye to win their third title on March 14.
At the final whistle against FC Goa in the second leg, the crowd at Fatorda Stadium had witnessed an unprecedented comeback. Sadly, it wasn’t from the hosts; but visitors Chennaiyin FC. The entire stadium went into a gloom, but the team that had given the hosts a guard of honour had the last laugh. They qualified for the Indian Super League finals and how!
Let’s take a trip back in time. At the end of last season, Chennaiyin FC had created a dubious record. They had finished rock bottom by earning the fewest points (9), had the least number of wins (2) and most defeats (13) in a season.
The beginning of this season, too, continued in the same breath. After six games under John Gregory, the team was rooted at the bottom of the table, with just a solitary win. John Gregory stepped down, and in came the spirited Owen Coyle. This was the beginning of a completely contrasting journey for the two-time ISL winners.
They started off with two draws and then defeated Kerala Blasters in the South Indian derby 3-1. The top three of André Schembri, Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Nerijus Valskis all scored in that game, starting the comeback that probably the players did not believe in either. Coyle turned it around, changing the approach from pragmatic to expansive.
He allowed his players to express themselves and switched Edwin Vanspaul’s position from right-back to midfield, adding more solidity beside Anirudh Thapa. This move gave both Schembri and Thapa the license to move forward and oh boy, how well did they do that!
In the last seven games, the Marina Machans won six teams and drew once, earning 19 points of a possible 21. Under Coyle, Chennaiyin FC picked up 24 points in 12 games, winning seven and drawing thrice. They were so dominant and on song that they made it to the top four with a game in hand, from a position of ignominy.
In the process, they defeated Hyderabad, NorthEast United, Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters, Bengaluru FC, ATK and Mumbai City FC. The last win against the Islanders was symbolic and Lucian Goian’s goal sealed it for the club.
In the semi-final, Chennaiyin FC took a 4-1 lead in the first and lost 4-2 in the second, reaching the finals yet again. The Marina Machans will now go head-to-head against ATK as both clubs look forward to their third ISL title.
A dig at the title is not something even the most optimistic Chennaiyin FC fan would have predicted at the start of the season, but here they are and in style. In their ranks, they have the second-highest active scoring player, Valskis, just one behind ATK’s Roy Krishna, who stands at 15. Similarly, Anirudh Thapa has earned several assists and also scored a blinder in the first leg.
This is the best comeback, arguably, in the history of the six-year old tournament. No team has successfully reached the final after staging such a dramatic comeback from the hallows. It would be a cherry on the cake, if they defeat the Kolkata outfit at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa next week.
Their style of football ensures they give the opponent a sight at their goal, while using that little bit of space to exploit chinks in the defences. Coyle expects his players to run a lot, work very hard, win every second ball and this has worked. Against the ‘arrogant’ ATK, it remains to be seen how this historic comeback pans out for Chennaiyin FC.