At the post-match press conference, Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory was left bewildered as to how his team ended up on the losing side in their clash against Mumbai City FC.
His opposite counterpart Alexandre Guimaraes instead chose to declare his goalkeeper Amrinder Singh as the best in the Indian Super League (ISL). These two statements by the respective coaches put the entire match into perspective.
An Achille Emana penalty in the 60th minute had been enough to separate the two sides at the Mumbai Football Arena as the hosts notched up their second win in as many matches on their home ground.
Confidence had been running high through Gregory’s men when they arrived for their clash at Mumbai on the back of three wins on the trot. A late Jeje Lalpekhua goal had helped them edge ATK in a five-goal thriller in Chennai in their last match.
On Sunday night though, the Englishman rang in the changes as he chose to heavily rotate his squad to keep it fresh in a league which can be physically demanding with the constant travelling and non-stop matches.
The effects of that rotation were felt most heavily up top for Chennaiyin where Mohammed Rafi was brought in place for Jeje. Rafi had built quite a reputation for himself as a forward with a penchant for headed goals in his two seasons with the Kerala Blasters but Gregory might have been left wondering as to what the fuss was all about when he hooked the forward late in the second-half.
Three gilt-edged chances came in the way of the Kerala native in the first-half itself where a decent header from him would have put the visitors 1-0 ahead.
The first came after a delicious cross from the left by Jude Nworuh, putting the ball on the plate for Rafi but he failed to even make a connection. The second was another baffling miss where the forward found himself unmarked in the six-yard box with only the goalkeeper to beat but somehow the striker lost the trajectory of the ball despite no pressure from any defender.
The third time, he did make a decent connection but directed it straight down the throat of Amrinder Singh. He could have made up for his amends right after the interval after being slipped through by Rene Mihelic but once again his effort was too close to the Mumbai custodian. Thoi Singh’s follow-up from that rebound will definitely go down in a compilation of misses of the season.
Gregory ultimately brought on Jeje for Rafi and even threw on Gregory Nelson but by then it was perhaps a little too late. The reasons for Gregory’s rotation might well have been related to injury concerns but those changes ultimately ended up killing all the momentum Chennaiyin had generated in their previous three matches.
In the end, the former Crawley Town boss was left ruing the missed chances and he might as well have, for Mumbai were there for the taking.
Guimaraes’ men now have two wins in two from their home games, both of them coming through a mixture of luck and a will to grind out results.
Luck had shined on them in their win over FC Goa in their first home game where some dreadful goalkeeping from Laxmikant Kattimani had played a huge part in the result.
That luck shone again on Sunday when Balwant Singh was adjudged to have been brought down in the box by Mailson Alves. Replays showed the incident took place outside the box while Singh’s fall was also a tad too dramatic.
Emana made no mistake from the spot and he was one of the big positives for Guimaraes in their win. The Cameroonian midfielder was the focal point of all the good work shown by Mumbai in attack as his driving runs through the centre of the pitch opened up Chennaiyin on more than one occasion.
The hosts were content to sit back and absorb the pressure after going ahead at the hour-mark and they could very well have ended up with more than one goal towards the dying minutes as the visitors threw the kitchen sink at them, leaving gaping holes at the back which were ripe for exploitation through quick counter-attacks.
Two home wins now garnered through some gritty defending and luck has propped Mumbai to the fifth position in the league and that very well might be Guimaraes game-plan.
The Costa Rican will need to grind out the results at home for his side has been atrocious on the road with just one point in three matches.
For Gregory, it will be back to the drawing board to reassess his best starting XI for any game if he wants to make sure that the latest loss remains just a blip in their otherwise impressive campaign so far.