7 matches, 769 minutes, 0 goals, 0 wins. Chennaiyin FC's Indian Super League (ISL) stats made for damning reading as their Monday night's encounter against Hyderabad FC inched towards another stalemate.
The Marina Machans were left frustrated after seeing a considerable number of chances go to waste in 90 minutes of regulation time against a listless Hyderabad outfit. But persistence is a virtue often undervalued and it is exactly that which came to their rescue in five 'mad' minutes of injury time.
Second-half substitute Andre Schembri, having endured frustrating moments in the first four games, took matters into his own after latching on to a loose ball inside the Hyderabad box. He held off his marker and surprised the goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh with a shot to his near post, sparking joyous scenes at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
The relief was written large across the face of John Gregory who had endured a tumultuos few weeks in the lead up to this game.
That relief would then morph into disappointment within minutes when Hyderabad, having looked toothless throughout the game, managed to find an unlikely equaliser from a corner.
The disappointment would change to wonder and disbelief almost immediately as a persistent Schembri and Nerijus Valskis combined to send the latter through on goal. The sound of the crowd erupting as the ball hit the back of the net was a throwback to John Gregory's first season at Chennaiyin FC back in 2017-18 when such moments were aplenty.
However, after registering their first win of the season, John Gregory would be under no illusions over their profligacy in the final third. And the next match against Odisha assumes even more significance now. Nothing short of a win will do for Chennaiyin FC on Thursday. The Englishman will be hoping that the way Chennaiyin finished the Hyderabad match serves as a boost to their season.
"If we can get a few wins on the trot, suddenly the position changes. Today’s result is very important but Thursday’s result will be more important," Gregory said after the game.
In many ways, a poorly set up Hyderabad FC helped Chennaiyin FC dominate the midfield battle. The likes of Rafael Crivellaro, Anirudh Thapa and Lallianzuala Chhangte found a lot of space and joy in the attacking half, creating chances galore. Only poor decisions in the final third and sheer bad luck kept the scoreline level till the end. Eli Sabia and Thoi Singh had hit the woodwork, with Rafael and Thapa forcing Kamaljit into making saves.
Now that the weight of scoring the first goal has been lifted, Chennaiyin will hope their fortunes in the final third will also change.
However, for Hyderabad FC, the questions will be harsh after such a poor performance. It was a wonder that a team which lined up with a three-man defence and wingbacks ended up affording so much time and space down the wings for Chennaiyin's widemen - Thoi and Chhangte. To top it off, none of the wingbacks contributed meaningfully in attack too.
The central defenders struggled to deal with the movement of Chennaiyin's forwards as well. Though Hyderabad boss Phil Brown stated otherwise, the ease with which Chennaiyin created chances throughout the match should ring alarm bells among the Hyderabad think-tank.
"Our best two players were (Matthew) Kilgallon and Gurtej (Singh). Chennaiyin had pace on the wings and these two were playing wide of the third centre-back. But they stepped up to it. That gave our wing-backs license to play," he claimed, somewhat perplexingly.
The two-man midfield of Rohit Kumar and Marko Stankovic were static and were bypassed with ease. As far as the front three are considered, apart from Marcelinho's industry there wasn't much to take as a positive. Bobo and Robin Singh looked way off the pace and did not look matchfit.
Quality might not have been at the forefront of Monday's encounter. But Chennaiyin will look to use the dramatic nature of the result as a shot in their arm while Hdyerabad have been left with a lot to ponder.