Chennai: Chennaiyin FC take on Kerala Blasters in their seventh game of the Indian Super League at the Nehru Stadium on Friday, aiming for a fifth win and a top spot in the points table. Former champions Chennaiyin have bounced back strongly after losing the season opener to FC Goa and won three games in a row before being stopped by Mumbai City FC. They are at third spot with 12 points from six matches. Chennaiyin beat a strong Bengaluru FC on 17 December in an away fixture and will be hoping to carry the momentum to the encounter against Blasters, co-owned among others by cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Brazilian import Raphael Augusto has been one of the key players for CFC, scoring two goals and has been a driving force in the mid-field. CFC coach John Gregory has hailed the 26-year-old midfielder and termed him as a ‘fighter’. Augusto’s creativity helped Dhanapal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh go about their business upfront. Jeje Lalpekhlua, with three goals so far, has come into his own after a subdued first game and will be crucial to the team’s chances.
Chennaiyin’s ability to grind out results was certainly on show in their late wins against ATK and Bengaluru FC. Even with their backs to the wall, Gregory has moulded them into a never-say-die outfit which keeps going till the end in the quest for points.
“I’ll never be satisfied. I told my players that we should have more points on the board. We’ve messed up a couple of times and I’ve messed up a couple of times but I’m delighted how hard the players have worked in training and matches,” Gregory told reporters ahead of Friday’s game. He also said his side now has a weight of expectation on them due to their performances. Blasters have been below par, at best, thus far with the team scoring only four goals in five games and coach Renee Mulesteen will be hoping for a turnaround. The onus will be on CK Vineeth, who scored the winner against NorthEast United, to provide the spark and pull off a win at the Marina Arena.
However, it would be easier said than done as Chennaiyin are a formidable outfit at home. Gregory’s men have got better with each game and local player Dhanapal Ganesh too seems to have come into his own and scored the winner against Bengaluru FC. The Blasters, with six points, will be aware of the task at hand in what is the first leg of the South derby and the defence must step up after the lapses seen in the previous games. Gregory said he would take nothing for granted despite Chennaiyin losing just twice in eight games against the Blasters. “I only use a statistic like that when it is to my advantage. I expect Kerala to finish higher than where they are and they’re coming into this game on the back of their first win and will prepare hard to get a favourable result,” the Englishman said.