The Chennai boss said the team has quality players…

Chennai City scored their first I-League goal through Marcos Vinicius against Mohun Bagan but were unable to arrest their losing run as they succumbed their third loss in as many games at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday night. The game ended 2-1 in favour of the visitors, with Chennai dropping to eighth.

Asked about the result, Chennai manager Robin Charles Raja said, “We wanted a debut three points, but we missed narrowly. We should have claimed all three points. We went so close. At least, we should have earned one point. Had Charles [de Souza] scored [from six yards out in the second half], we’d have nicked a win.”

Despite conceding two goals in 20 minutes 13 minutes before the final whistle, Chennai produced a valiant display, often cutting Mohun Bagan’s defense open, with the aid of Man of the Match and goalscorer Tank, Charles, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni. Asked whether the performance surprised him, he said, “I told yesterday that we’re getting better and better after every match. It was our second home match. We did not have points, but we know that we have quality players.”

The Chennai gaffer has been making tweaks to the team, hoping to discover the system that suits his personnel the best. Against Mohun Bagan, he espoused a traditional 4-4-2 setup that almost bore the fruit he has been hankering for. Quizzed about the strategy, he said: “After the DSK [Shivajians] match, we needed to open up for sure. We went with a 4-4-2 formation – in the attacking as well as defending department, we were able to hold them. We had initial threats in the first 15 minutes. They were pressurizing us too much, but our defense and Karanjit [Singh] made the difference. I’m happy we’re getting better.”

Chennai had proved that they can produce a decent performance already, as evidenced by their display at Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Against Mohun Bagan, they seemingly punched above their weights, and the Chennai manager branded the loss as their best display so far this season. However, he admitted that they should convert good performances into wins.

“Every match, the players give their best, but they played their best today,” said Charles Raja. “The team did well, but we did not get a point. That’s a concern.”

A lack of team chemistry hampered their chances of producing a positive in the first three games, and the manager himself identified a language barrier between the Brazilian forwards and Indian midfielders as their Achilles heel. On Saturday night, they seemed to have meshed although a few hands were raised on the pitch because of annoyance over of a lack of coordination every now and then.

“It looked better today,” said Charles Raja, when discussing chemistry. “I started [Haroon] Amiri, who returned after missing two games. After [Dharmaraj] Ravanan’s injury, I had to push him to the defense, and Denson [Devadas] did well defensively. Attacking wise, I had another option in mind, and if it had not been for Ravanan’s injury, with Amiri only recently coming out of injury, Zakeer [Mundampara] would have come on. Last game he was good, but because of the injury concerns and substitutions, I held with Denson and Dhanpal [Ganesh]. They are more of defensive midfielders and Zakeer’s attacks more, but [I could not bring him on].”

Charles Raja admitted that his players leaving behind space in the defending half during attacking phases was the sole reason why they suffered a loss in Pune. However, they conceded under similar circumstances in Chennai when Haiti international Sony Norde turned two Chennai players before hitting the far corner from the left.

“It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing; you never allow a player to dribble past three players, like Norde did after cutting inside. Edwin and [Jospeh] Clemente failed to contain him and then, he scored. If you give space to such quality players, it’s not good,” said Charles Raja.

Often times, it looked as though Sen’s game plan was to target Clemente’s flank. Asked whether he pondered taking off the struggling Goa-born right back, he said, “I had Abhishek Das [on the bench]. Clemente was failing, as Edwin got tired. That made [our right flank vulnerable]. Both players went two versus one for almost every ball in the first half, and when Edwin got tired, [Anyichie] Echezona should have covered. That was a mistake.”

Chennai welcome fourth-placed Aizawl to JN Stadium on 28 January as they continue to search for their first I-League win.