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Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory: ‘I told Jeje Lalpekhlua he would get two tonight’

Chennaiyin FC eased past FC Goa 4-1 on aggregate with a 3-0 win in Chennai thanks in no small part to a brace from Jeje Lalpekhlua on Tuesday to enter the final of the Indian Super League 2017-18.

football Updated: Mar 14, 2018 09:43 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Chennaiyin FC,John Gregory,Jeje Lalpekhlua
Jeje Lalpekhlua of Chennaiyin FC celebrates after scoring his first goal against FC Goa in the second leg semi-final between the two sides at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai on March 14, 2018. (ISL)

They call him ‘Dadu’ or grandfather but even if he is that, one who has had heart surgery and was off football for two years, John Gregory can still mould a football team. (Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa match report)

In the way he used the team’s experienced defenders as his strongest suit, in the way his team worked on its fitness and in the way he backed Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gregory showed he has forgotten none of the managerial skills that took him to Aston Villa, Derby County and Queens Park Rangers between 1998 to 2007.

“I told Jeje he would get two tonight,” he said, after Tuesday’s 3-0 win helped Chennaiyin FC ease past FC Goa 4-1 on aggregate and enter Saturday’s final of the Indian Super League 2017-18. Lalpekhlua did but it was perhaps only because Gregory kept the faith in him by telling him nothing.

“In Goa, even in the humidity, he (Jeje) ran himself to the ground. Today, he cramped because of his enthusiasm and effort. If you continue to support him, you know he will get something,” said Gregory, speaking at the post-match conference late on Tuesday.

Chennaiyin FC put a lot of faith in their defensive abilities and bank on their fitness to get something at the other end often late in the game. “We probably aren’t as technically gifted as Goa but we do put a huge responsibility on the defensive side of our play. That is what the team has been built on this season,” he said.

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It didn’t start that well though. “On November 19 at around 6:15pm, I was 0-3 down against FC Goa... Vita (Dani, co-owner) almost handed me a ticket to London but we had a good second half (Chennaiyin FC lost 2-3). That first half stayed with me for a long time and today more than made up for it,” said Gregory.

From a 4-4-1-1 in that game, Chennaiyin FC switched to 4-2-3-1 and from playing in the midfield, Jerry Lalrinzuala replaced Dhanachandra Singh as left back. In the next game, against NorthEast United, Gregory lined up a team that also started both semi-finals.

“Now, the hard work begins. The boys have already switched on and started their recovery programme…You go to a final to win it….People say go there to enjoy it but you only enjoy it if you win it,” said Gregory.

Leading from the back

Crucial to how Chennaiyin FC play are three foreigners at the back: Spanish right-back Inigo Calderon, Portuguese central defender Henrique Sereno and his Brazilian partner Mailson Alves.

“They are vastly experienced so what we work on at training, they pick up quickly. They are three leaders on the pitch and off it. We set out a back-four that had never played together against Mumbai City FC (after Chenniayin had qualified for the semi-finals) and Calderon and Sereno held an impromptu coaching session to help the boys,” said Gregory.

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Speaking before him, FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera said failure to capitalise on their best start of the season cost them before two errors at the back did them in.

But the kind of attacking verve FC Goa displayed this term would be one of the positives Lobera would take into the next season. While Lobera was signed on a two-year deal, Gregory too is likely to get an extension. For, unless it is ATK, teams don’t change coaches in such situations.

First Published: Mar 14, 2018 09:08 IST