As the Chennaiyin FC team rejoiced in celebrations after securing their entry to the semi-finals for the 2019-’20 Indian Super League season at the Mumbai Football Arena on Friday, Mumbai City FC coach Jorge Costa huddled his disheartened players for a quick pep talk.
The Islanders didn’t have the best of start to their season but somehow managed to wriggle their way into play-off contention. And after a 2-5 away loss against FC Goa, their chances of making it past the league stage for the second straight year hung on carving out a positive result against former champions Chennaiyin on the home turf.
Costa’s men played their heart out despite being a man down for almost 40 minutes against Owen Coyle’s Chennaiyin FC but were done in by Lucian Goian’s late strike. The Islanders would consider themselves unlucky that a couple of decisions did not go their way and the sending off of Sourav Das in the 54th minute made the already difficult task an uphill job.
“I said to the players at the end of the game was that we had nothing to be ashamed of. We gave our best from the first to the last second of the Chennaiyin match,” Costa said about his pep talk at the post-match press conference.
Mumbai City FC’s last league encounter was a virtual knock-out encounter for the hosts while the visitors only needed to avoid defeat to live another day. But a win was sure to take Chennaiyin FC to the last four and Coyle’s men began the proceedings with more purpose.
The hosts were, however, compact and did not give their opponents any space as Mumbai City’s midfield blocked all service to striker Nerijus Valskis. Midfielders Das and Rowllin Borges kept a tight leash on Chennaiyin FC’s creator-in-chief Rafael Crivellaro and forced the visitors to go wide in search for a goal scoring opportunity.
This opened up a few gaps for Mumbai to push forward but the the visitors were solid in their structure and neither team really managed to create any meaningful chances in the first half.
Borges was a livewire in the middle of the park for Mumbai City but just when it looked like the hosts were beginning to build pressure on their opponents in the second half, Mohammad Rafique’s mistake cost the team dearly.
Rafique was easily disposed of by Lallianzuala Chhangte, who had only the goalkeeper to beat. But Das threw in a tackle on the Chennaiyin striker and was given a straight red.
The hosts then shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation and relied mostly on counters to create scoring opportunities. They were compact at the back and did not allow Chennaiyin to have a shy at goal from open play despite the numerical disadvantage.
It was their former defender who managed to break the deadlock seven minutes from time with a half volley after Valskis had nodded down a Crivellaro corner in his direction.
Mumbai City centre-back Mato Grgic was guilty of not marking Goian well and Costa admitted that individual mistakes at crucial junctures hurt the team’s chances in the season.
“We are not in the playoffs because we made a lot of mistakes but, in football and life, we make mistakes as we are not perfect. We did our best from the first day to the last second and we walk with our heads held high,” Costa said.
“You are not perfect. I am not perfect. The players are not perfect. The club is not perfect. But I am proud.”