Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory would be one happy man after his team's 1-0 win at Jamshedpur on Thursday night in an Indian Super League (ISL) encounter that pitted him against fellow Englishman Steve Coppell.
In many ways, it was an important win for the South Indian side. Not only did they extend their lead over FC Goa at the top of the table to four points, it was also their third away win of the campaign in just four games.
Such a strong away form at the start of the season augurs well as far as their chances of making it to the playoffs are concerned.
Though the game on Thursday night was often bogged down in midfield with very few chances being created, Chennaiyin FC coped well with the opposition and the conditions, thanks to the better quality of players in their ranks.
It was only fitting that the winning goal came after a penalty awarded for a handball by Mehtab Hossain inside the box, which Jeje Lalpekhlua converted. Interestingly, Jamshedpur were also awarded a lucky penalty for a shove on Bikash Jairu by Henrique Sereno - a decision that seemed extremely harsh. However, Karanjit Singh made an excellent stop to deny Kervens Belfort who had a frustrating night.
Apart from an early chance which fell to Kervens Belfort, from which Karanjit Singh made an alert save, Jamshedpur could not really produce much despite endeavouring to do so. Belfort is not really a finisher and the lack of a clinical player up front has been hurting Jamshedpur and accounts for why they have scored just the two goals in the league so far. He had to drop deep in order to get involved on the ball and even when he did get it, the Haitian could not work out openings due to the incessant pressing by the Chennaiyin midfielders.
Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, have a balanced squad with readymade replacements in case one of their starting players are injured or indisposed. On Thursday, Bikramjit Singh went off injured in the early minutes of the first half. The Punjabi midfielder has been a mainstay in the Chennaiyin midfield so far and it could have been a catastrophe for them. But up stepped Germanpreet Singh, who displayed commendable energy levels to ensure Chenaniyin FC did not miss a beat in the centre of the park.
Another example was Rene Mihelic who came in for Raphael Augusto who has been struggling with his fitness. The Slovenian was supremely calm and composed on the ball and ran the show for the Super Machans.
Though not much creativity was on display on the night, Chennaiyin FC had players who could hold the ball up well and move forward with it, something their opponents lacked. Jamshedpur's strategy was to get the ball down the wings and hope somebody connects on a cross.
The pitch also made it hard for the players to pass the ball around properly which led to some of the long-ball football witnessed on the night. Even here, things did not work out for Jamshedpur as Belfort and co. could not hold the ball up or win second balls against the physical duo of Mailson Alves and Sereno, something a diminutive Jeje did well against the burly Bikey and Tiri.
All in all, it was an excellent victory for Chennaiyin FC who look to be growing stronger match by match while Jamshedpur continue to search for inspiration up front.