Both managers spoke following a high-quality game of football to round off the fourth season of the cash-rich league.
Chennaiyin FC were crowned Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 champions after they overcame Bengaluru FC 3-2 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday. Mailson Alves scored from two headers from two corners while Raphael Augusto’s sublime strike gave them their third. With the win, Chennaiyin earned the distinction of becoming two-time ISL champions and addressing the media during the post-match press conference was their head coach John Gregory.
The Englishman underlined the importance of taking a lead into half-time. “Going into half-time having taken a lead after being 1-0 down, it felt great,” he remarked. “It certainly gave us a huge advantage. I have been on the opposite side, being down by a goal at half-time, and it really deflates you. And obviously the team talk at half-time becomes different. I told my players to keep a clean sheet in the second half, and we win it.”
Gregory mentioned the importance of their third goal and how it gave them some breathing space. “We played with discipline and made sure that Bengaluru could not find a way back into the game,” he stated. “And the third goal kind of helped us relax a little bit more. They obviously had to came at us in search of goals, and we could have made it even better than 3 – 1 at the time. I was a bit disappointed with their second goal. It made the last couple of minutes nervy and I kept looking at my watch for the last few seconds.”
The Blues used a 3-4-3 formation instead of their regular 4-2-3-1 formation and Gregory admitted that it did cause them problems. “We were kind of expecting that they might use a different kind of formation against us,” revealed the 63-year-old. “And they made it difficult for us. They kept getting the full-backs on both sides of the pitch and the likes of Gregory Nelson and Francis Fernandes were spending a lot of time in their own half. Certainly when they scored the first goal, we were always on the back foot.”
But the visitors clawed themselves back into the game and Gregory put his team’s down to their tremendous work-ethic. “We kind of stuck to the game plan that we had, which is hard work,” he explained. “That is the first requisite that you need in our team; you need to work hard. And it’s kept us in good stead throughout the season. And we got the breaks at the right time. Two set-pieces and two good deliveries by Gregory Nelson. And two fantastic finishes by Mailson which put us in a commanding position.”
He finally lauded his players for their grit and never-say-die attitude to turn the tables and win a final at their opponents’ den. “It is not easy when you are in a final and you are playing in somebody else’s home ground,” inferred Gregory. “It gives a huge advantage to the home team. And we showed a lot of courage today, going 1-0 down and coming back to win. And that’s been the story of our season; we tend not to allow anything to bother us. We have come across so many obstacles throughout the season, but we have got huge togetherness. They are an amazing and incredible bunch of players.”
Speaking to the media at the post-match press conference was their head coach Albert Roca and he took blame after his team conceded two goals from corners. “To concede from set-pieces is always disappointing,” he stated. “I don’t blame the defence for this. It is my responsibility to change the system. But, I accept I made a mistake in the formation. Sometimes in football it is not the players who make the mistakes, but the coaches. And perhaps this time I made a mistake.”
The Spaniard lauded Alves and maintained that his experience was a key factor in games such as these. “I don’t think we felt pressure, but Mailson scoring from two corners made a big difference,” Roca explained. “In a few minutes, the game changed. In football, you need players with his kind of experience to rise to the situation.”
The 55-year-old also heaped praise on Bengaluru captain Chhetri for his efforts in trying to help his team get back into the game. “Sunil is an outstanding player and I am proud of him,” Roca remarked. “Not just because he scored an important goal in the final. He fought till the end, and put in a lot of effort in the second half. He is a fantastic player, and he will have his moment in another season.”