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AFC CUP 2019: Chennaiyin FC's sorry season ends on a sorrier note after failing to make knockouts

05:34 BST 27/06/2019
John Gregory Chennaiyin Bengaluru
The 2017/18 Indian Super League champions provided us with potentially one of the worst ever title defences ...

Chennaiyin FC crashed out of the group stage of the AFC Cup after Abahani Dhaka earned all three points against Minerva Punjab at Guwahati, courtesy of a late winner.

The Indian Super League (ISL) side thereby capped off a disappointing season quite aptly. John Gregory’s side failed to keep up the tradition of having at least one Indian team in the knockout rounds of the competition since 2013.

The former ISL champions failed to qualify from a relatively simple group despite having better resources compared to the other teams in the mix. This when coupled with their inexcusably sorry league campaign in the ISL begs for the question – is this the worst ever title defence season in India?

Minerva Punjab’s I-League defence in the 2018/19 season was not a bed of roses either. Sachin Badadhe’s men finished 10th with just 17 points in 19 games. But Chennaiyin’s failure to defeat a struggling Minerva Punjab on two occasions is indeed disappointing.

Abahani Dhaka – team which was defeated by Bengaluru FC’s second string side last season – emerged as group winners and clearly, Chennaiyin FC have only themselves to blame.

At the business end of the ISL season, Gregory claimed that AFC Cup was the focus of the then defending champions and was confident that his team would make it out of the group.

“I'm sad we've had a poor season. You are judged on your league season. The best team always wins the league and our ISL season has been poor. The returns and the lack of goals have been poor. I'm determined to go through to the group stages of the AFC Cup. I should have gone last summer but hopefully I can leave in a better frame of mind,” said Gregory, ahead of their play-off tie against Colombo FC in March.

But it appears that the Englishman and his team failed to meet the modest target they set for themselves after registering the worst ever campaign by any team in the ISL.

The lack of motivation, desire to win and most importantly a lack of confidence was clearly visible whenever Chennaiyin players took the field. It is this incompetence that prevented them from even sniffing the AFC Cup semi-final spot, a familiar territory for Indian clubs like Dempo SC, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC.

Lack of a sturdy back-line in the league and an insipid front-line combined to leak goals and miss chances.

A promising Super Cup campaign in which they finished runners-up served as a ray of hope for a positive show in Asia. But the sorry season ended on a sorrier note after their elimination in the group stage.

It is high time Chennaiyin FC introspect and find out what went wrong and where they could have improved. Their ship is leaking profusely right now the team needs to plug those holes before the next season starts.