The southerners came from behind to edge the Bengal Tigers and go top of the table.
Defending champions ATK crashed to their fifth defeat of the season when Chennaiyin FC came from behind to edge them 1-2 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Thursday. Debutant Mark Paterson’s first half strike was cancelled out by goals from Mailson Alves and Jeje Lalpekhlua in the second period. The defeat further dents ATK’s hopes of entering the playoffs, as they stay rooted at the eighth spot on the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 table.
Speaking to the media during the post-match press conference was the host’s interim head-coach Ashley Westwood, and he started off by sharing some worrying news regarding one of their most influential players. “Zequinha has obviously got a hamstring injury,” he revealed. “When you see somebody sprint and pull back like that, you know instantly that he has got some soft tissue damage. With the severity of it, I would say, you are looking at four weeks (of his being out of contention). Maybe even four to six. If he’s lucky, he may get away with three. Obviously, it has come at a bad time with so many games coming in thick and fast.”
Westwood also admitted that the loss was hard to swallow, given that ATK came up with a good show on the pitch. “Regarding the result, obviously going in at half-time with a 1-0 lead, you don’t expect to concede two goals in the second half,” he stated. “We fought really hard and we showed a lot of desire and aggression. I feel disappointed because I honestly thought a draw would have been a fair result. We matched Chennaiyin and we gave them a really tough game. It was unfortunate that we made a couple of mistakes to concede two goals.”
The Englishman also refused to blame any individual for the loss, highlighting the fact that the team worked as a whole. “We don’t want to point fingers at players,” remarked the 41-year-old. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. We know where we have gone wrong. We conceded from a set-piece, that we had spoken about and worked on. That was the key one really; going to 1 – 1. If we had kept it at 1-0 for a little bit longer, then obviously, that would have eradicated the second. But there is no point singling people out because, at the end of the day, we work together, and win and lose together.”
Before concluding, he also spoke about the positives gathered from the game, as the team prepares for the next few fixtures at home. “We were never going to win all five home games,” he admitted. “We’ve spoken about winning four, possibly three, with a draw to keep us in the mix. This is obviously nothing but a loss. But, at the end of the day, we showed a little bit of response, reaction, some intensity and desire. It gives us something to build on. We’ll forget we’ve lost three points. At the end of the day, we’ve had improvement and that’s encouraging.”
Speaking to the media during the post-match press conference was Chennaiyin’s head coach John Gregory, who admitted that the scenario at halftime was almost identical to their previous match against NorthEast United FC (which they ended up losing 3-1. “Against NorthEast, on the other night, we were 1-0 down at halftime and very similar circumstances occurred tonight as well,” he recalled. “That really served as a reminder to us because when we came out and started the second half against NorthEast, we were asleep. Then, they scored a second goal which effectively won them the game. But the important aspect tonight was that we weren’t going to let that happen again.”
He further continued, “We came out in the second half very focused. I did make an important issue of the fact that we still had 45 minutes of the game left. I felt that if we could continue to play the same way the that we did in the first 45 minutes, we’d have enough to win the game. So, we kept our composure and our togetherness. We have a huge family togetherness as a group of players, and we just kept together, kept our composure and played our way back into the game.”
The Englishman also heaped praise on the players, lauding them for their performance on the night. “This group of players have performed above any expectations,” the 63-year-old stated. “I cannot offer one word of criticism to the whole squad. The way that they go about their jobs, the way that they work, they just give everything in every game. And for me, that is the most important ingredient – the attitude. A team that has a great attitude will always be a team that has great talent. We have got both. We have got talent on our team and a huge attitude to work hard.”
“As a coach, you have to support your players,” he added. “You try and give your best, you try and help them as much as you can. I can easily look at all my players and find a fault in them, but I tend to work and make a point of using their strengths.”
He also acknowledged the fact that ATK was a tough opponent and winning in Kolkata was also a big task, but his team trumped the odds. “I knew it was a big task,” he admitted. “This season, we have never come back from being a goal down and won, so that in itself, was a first for us. But, I would not put anything past these guys. We had a disappointing result against NorthEast the other night and we bounced back today. This is not an easy place to come to. This is a huge stadium with a huge tradition. We were playing against the defending champions. But we continued to work hard and eventually, the two goals came.”
Before leaving, Gregory singled out Jeje who netted the winner, praising the ‘Mizo Sniper’ for his contributions throughout. “Jeje is a goal scorer and he’ll score goals, provided you give him the opportunity. So, we try and work on his strengths, on the good bits that he has in his game. The guy is a really talented footballer and he is a goal scorer. He works on his game, he reaps the rewards and we try and play him to his strengths as much as we can,” he concluded.