Chennaiyin FC’s most memorable moments in the Hero ISL
Chennaiyin FC is among the most successful Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfits, reaching the final on three occasions and winning the coveted trophy twice. However, their Hero ISL journey over the years has been far from smooth and if anything can be likened to a roller coaster ride of extremes.
The Marina Machans have qualified for the playoffs in four of the six Hero ISL seasons so far, but when they did not, the club has either finished seventh and tenth in the standings. Interestingly, Chennaiyin’s lowly finishes in the standings were preceded by title winning campaigns. On the sixth foundation day of the club, we take a walk down memory lane to see some of the Marina Machans’ most incredible moments in the Hero ISL.
Stiven Mendoza and Chennaiyin’s miraculous turnaround
During the second edition of the Hero ISL, Chennaiyin were in a precarious situation after their first 10 games. However, with 10 points in total and just four matches remaining, the Marina Machans went on a winning run, beating southern rivals Kerala Blasters FC, Delhi Dynamos FC, Mumbai City FC and FC Pune City.
Stiven Mendoza was the catalyst for this turnaround, scoring five of his 13 goals during Chennaiyin’s late winning run in the league stage. A semi-final win over ATK FC was then sweeter considering the Kolkata-based club had done the double over Chennaiyin earlier that season. All of that seemed in vain after a late goal by Joffre Mateu nearly led to final heartbreak for the southerners but a Laxmikant Kattimani own goal and a late winner from Mendoza gave the Marina Machans their first-ever Hero ISL title.
What made the victory even sweeter was that Chennaiyin were at the bottom of the standings before their miraculous turnaround under Marco Materazzi. They also dedicated their victory to the many people affected by the devastating floods in Chennai that year.
Chennaiyin overcome Bengaluru to win second Hero ISL title
After a disappointing 2016 campaign which saw the club finish seventh in the league table, Chennaiyin FC returned for the fourth season of the Hero ISL with more energy and purpose. Led ably by John Gregory, Chennaiyin were among the top teams in the league from the get-go.
A slight dip in form, though, saw Chennaiyin beaten to a top of the table finish by Bengaluru FC. The Sunil Chhetri-led side finished on top with a record 40 points, while Chennaiyin were eight points behind the league leaders.
The Marina Machans got the better of FC Goa in the semi finals, but their biggest task of the season was to break down a resolute Bengaluru side which had the best defence and second-best offence that season. However, Gregory’s team worked hard the whole match, coming back from an early Chhetri goal to end Bengaluru’s 10-match unbeaten streak 3-2 and lift their second Hero ISL title. By winning the final, Chennaiyin became the first Hero ISL side to directly qualify for the AFC Cup next season.
Chennaiyin’s magnificent run to the final under Owen Coyle
After securing their second Hero ISL trophy, Chennaiyin endured a difficult campaign, finishing tenth in Hero ISL 2018-19 under their English head coach. The club hierarchy persisted with Gregory but after an underwhelming start to the 2019-20 season, Gregory was replaced by Owen Coyle and one of the most historic turnarounds in Hero ISL history soon ensued.
When Coyle arrived at the club, Chennaiyin were struggling and finding it hard to even score goals. The arrival of Coyle, though, instilled new-found belief into the Marina Machans, who went on a run which saw them finish the league stage in the top four as the third best attacking side. Free-flowing attacking football with a lot of trust in the midfield was at the center of Coyle’s philosophy.
Although Nerijus Valskis and Rafael Crivellaro were their star attackers, they were ably supported by Andre Schembri and Lallianzuala Chhangte. They also beat Hero ISL Shield Winners FC Goa in the semi-final but fell short in the final against ATK FC. While they might have lost the final, their fightback was commended across the league and the emergence of young Indian players from Chennaiyin rising to the big occasions was heartening to see.