Lost amid talk of Aizawl FC’s fairytale run in the 10th I-League is how Churchill Brothers are playing Cinderella under Derrick Pereira.
Ever since the former India defender took over last month, Churchill Brothers have moved from the bottom of the 10-team league to the relative security of being sixth, going into Tuesday’s away match against leaders East Bengal (27 points from 12 games) in Barasat near here.
In three games under Pereira, 54, Churchill Brothers have taken six points. That includes successive victories against DSK Shivajians, their first win in six games, and Mohun Bagan. They now have 12 points from 12 rounds.
“It is a different team from the one we beat away,” said East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan. “Derrick is an experienced coach who knows how the I-League works and the team has shown massive improvement under him.”
“Saving relegation still stays our first target. I knew they were a good side but somehow, the results were not coming. I wanted to get involved and am glad that the boys have responded..,” said Perreira.
To that Churchill Brothers skipper Anthony Wolfe, 33, added: “He sent a different message to the squad: that there are no favourites… The players respect him,” said the Trinidad and Tobago international.
What made Pereira’s job more difficult is the lack of preparation time teams such as Minerva FC, Chennai City FC and Churchill Brothers got. Of them, Churchill are not immune from relegation.
“Aizawl (on 26 points after 12 rounds) have been the surprise package but the reason why East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are title-contenders is that they had a base squad to which they added players. Churchill Brothers got just two-three days to get ready before opening against Mohun Bagan,” said Pereira.
Pereira said all teams should get equal time to prepare in India’s top league. “The ISL provides that. It is only now that teams are looking somewhat settled.”
This is the first time Salgaocar, for whom Pereira played 16 years and coached two seasons, are not part of India’s top league. “I keep thinking what I could have done to help them. I think they would have stayed had the AIFF been clearer about their plans and if they had allowed promotion and relegation in the proposed restructuring,” he said.