The Owen Coyle revolution is televised, straight outta Chennai
And so it continues, the remarkable Owen Coyle revolution. They had kicked the backdoor in to make it to the semifinal, unexpected, unaccounted for, bucking the odds. When he took over, they had had a "1-2% chance" of qualifying, he had said. Yet here they were, and they do not seem to be done yet.
Goa, table-toppers, the best team in the land, swept into town with the world at their feet, but they will be leaving it with the earth crumbling beneath them. They had come, they had seen, they had been comprehensively conquered. Veni, Vidi,
Vici Poda (colloquial Tamil for 'get out of here').
Lucian Goian rose high, rose fast to head home their first. Anirudh Thapa curled in a stunner from outside the box to make it two. Eli Sabia -- big, burly centre-back Eli Sabia -- produced a far post, off the ball, behind-the-defence run that would have made any poacher proud, to tap in the third. Lallianzuala Chhangte crashed in a fourth from a tight angle.
From a team that had managed just four goals in six games as they lay languishing near the foot of the table when Owen Coyle was flown in, they had transformed into a team that smashed four past the table toppers in a 25-minute second half spell in the first leg of their playoff semifinal. Does 'remarkable' really cover it?
Sure, Goa were without their best player, Hugo Boumous, and their most calming influence on the ball, Brandon Fernandes, but they haven't looked this hapless in a long while. Chennaiyin dominated the goalless first half, limiting their usually-free-scoring opponents to chances off fast breaks, not allowing them to control the tempo, the pace of the game.
In the second half, they simply ripped their opponents apart.
Chennaiyin love playing against Goa in the ISL semi-finals �� pic.twitter.com/fBWRHQiUAg- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) February 29, 2020
Edwin Vanspaul and Thapa dominated midfield, covering everything. The unique mix of dynamic stability that the pair have offered has been at the heart of everything good Chennaiyin have done over the past few months, and so it was on the night. They stifled the ever-dangerous Ferran Corominas as he dropped into the trequartista role vacated by Boumous, while keeping the free roaming pair of Ahmed Jahouh and Lenny Rodrigues occupied in their own half.
Sabia and Goian may have bagged a goal apiece, but they carried out their primary duties with aplomb. They were so good, that apart from a couple of instances, Vishal Kaith might as well have gone on holiday.
On the flanks, Laldianliana Renthei and Jerry Lalrinzuala forced Goa inward, into the crowded central areas, stopping them from gathering any attacking momentum. Ahead of them, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Andre Schmerbi worked tirelessly to help them out. They attacked, and defended, in pairs down the wings.
Rafael Crivallero pulled deep to, er, pull the strings, the ball sticking to his feet, teammates moving to his tune. Nerijus Valskis, scorer of 13 goals in the league stages, did not find his way onto the scoresheet but he put on a masterclass in selfless centre-forward play, bullying Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena, creating space for Chhangte, Schmerbi, and Crivallero behind him.
Saviour Gama, who replaced the ineffectual Manvir Singh past the hour mark, bumbled home a consolation away goal to keep the faint embers of hope alive. But as the referee blew for full time, everyone watching understood just why Clifford Miranda, Goa's interim head coach, had exclaimed before the game, "Chennaiyin were the one team we would have wanted to avoid."
Miranda will hope to welcome back Boumous and Fernandes for the second leg next Saturday, and will be hoping their formidable record at the Fatorda will help them put up a fight. For there was none on show at the 'Marina Arena'.
That the 'champions' of India -- what else do you call the nation's representatives to the AFC Champions League? - went down with barely a whimper, though, is a mark of just how far Chennaiyin have come over the past three months. How they have gone from down-in-the-dumps to top-of-the-world in the proverbial blink of an eye.
Gil Scott-Heron was wrong. The revolution is being televised, straight out of Chennai. And Owen Coyle is at the very heart of it all.