For defending Hero Indian Super League (ISL) League Winners’ Shield holders Jamshedpur FC, it has been a season of endless struggles. The Red Miners set the league on fire last season, going all the way and finishing top of the Hero ISL standings for the first time in Hero ISL history. Under Owen Coyle, JFC registered the most wins and lost just three games last season, which was the joint-best record. However, they have looked a shadow of themselves in Hero ISL 2022-23, registering a meager four points out across eight games, including one solitary win. 

There have been changes aplenty to Jamshedpur FC since the previous campaign. Not only did they lose key players, including the likes of Greg Stewart, Alex Lima and Jordan Murray, but they also saw former head coach Owen Coyle part ways during the summer. With Aidy Boothroyd taking charge at Jamshedpur FC, things haven’t just been clicking for the Englishman. The Men of Steel have now lost five straight games, their longest-ever losing run in their Hero ISL history.

“Owen Coyle, for me, was a pure motivator,” says former Hyderabad FC head coach and expert Phil Brown. 

“He’s not the greatest coach in the world by his own admission, but he gets on the training ground and knows how to motivate a group of players. That’s one of the main reasons why Jamshedpur FC did so well last season. The change of personnel on and off the field has affected Jamshedpur FC unrecognisably, if truth be told. Whereas Aidy Boothroyd is a technical coach, who likes to do technical sessions with his players. Maybe he hasn’t been at the football club enough in time to get his philosophy or style of play.” 

The Stewart factor 

Jamshedpur FC have missed a player of Stewart’s calibre this season, who can have a big influence on games. The Scotsman registered 10 goals and as many assists, racking the Hero of the League award last season during Jamshedpur FC’s League Shield triumph. Stewart, who joined fellow Hero ISL side Mumbai City FC during the summer, has continued to hit the heights from last season, registering two goals and six assists across nine matches. Stewart alone has been involved in more goals than Jamshedpur FC this season, and JFC have missed his presence badly.

“Stewart was their talisman (last season),” says Hero ISL commentator and expert Darren Caldeira. “He registered the most number of goals and assists for them last season, and we know the quality that he brought into the team. He single-handedly won many games for them, and you can see how big of a loss it has been for Jamshedpur FC this season. They have signed two players in attack this season - Harrison Sawyer and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas - but unfortunately, the two haven't been firing,” Caldeira adds. 

Misfiring attack 

While Jamshedpur FC netted the second most goals last season, their new look attack has looked disjointed. Out of their six goals, Jamshedpur FC have scored only three goals from open play this season - the second fewest in the league. Five goals have come in the first half, but pressure has got them in the second half, with the team struggling for goals. They have scored the fewest goals by a team in the second half of this campaign.

Boothroyd’s side has netted just two goals in their previous five matches that have ended in defeat, but Jamshedpur FC have not managed to take the lead in any of these games. 

“They don’t have any sort of build-up play happening,” explains Caldeira. “The balls are kicked long to Sawyer, Emmanuel-Thomas or Daniel Chima, and they are made to flick the ball. Their football has been one-dimensional. But they have shown glimpses in a couple of games where they have had chances to score goals. But there has been an over reliance on Chukwu to get those goals. They haven’t been clinical enough and that’s what has cost them in a few games. Overall, it has been a poor season for Boothroyd and his boys.” 

Defensive woes

Last season, Jamshedpur FC boasted the stingiest defence in the league, conceding 21 goals across 20 games, which included six clean sheets. In contrast, the Red Miners have shipped the most goals from open play this season (12). 

Additionally, their defence has not managed to withstand the pressure from the offset. 

Out of the 15 goals conceded by Jamshedpur FC, eight of them have come in the first half - the most goals conceded by a team. All of the goals have been conceded in the first 30 minutes of the game and JFC have secured only a single point after trailing by a goal.

“Boothroyd has had the same defence from last season with (TP) Rehenesh in goal, but they have been at sixes and sevens,” said Caldeira. “Defensively, they have been poor, conceding a lot of goals. If you look at some of the individual errors, (Peter) Hartley, who was so consistent last season, has been called on several occasions. Full-backs Ricky (Lallawmawma) and Laldinliana (Renthlei) have also not been at their best, and Eli Sabia missed a couple of games through injury. Pratik Chaudhari, who has come in, has been their best defender so far this season.” 

What’s next?  

Caldiera believes Jamshedpur FC need to get their starting eleven right, starting from the back. Injuries to key players has been one of the major issues that may have affected the team’s performances, with Boothroyd having to make constant changes to his line-up.

“They need to start getting solid defensively. He needs to get into a system where the back four start combining a lot better and cutting down on those errors,” stated Caldeira. “In midfield, Boothroyd has chopped and changed a lot of players. (Wellington) Priori, Jitendra (Singh), SK Sahil and Farukh Chaudhary have been playing in midfield, so he’s got to figure out his best two central midfielders. One of them has got to be a proper defensive midfielder who can sit in front of the defence and make sure they keep it tight at the back. Going forward as well, they need forwards to chip in with goals and assists. There is too much responsibility on Chukwu to get the goals. Harry Sawyer and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas or Ritwik Das need to be firing as well.”

Brown, who echoed Caldeira’s views, feels Emmanuel-Thomas should be playing upfront with a centre-back partnership of Hartley and Eli Sabia. 

He said: “Chukwu hasn't been the same player that he was (last season). Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, for me, is a striker and he has been playing in a midfield role and I don’t know if they are getting the best out of him. Hartley motivates the players and if they can keep him and Eli Sabia together, that would work. Sawyer for me is not going to be the answer unless you're going to play long balls, from back to front and playing diagonal balls into Sawyer. I don’t see him fitting into the plans in the second half of the season.”

He adds: “You can lack confidence and direction when you lose games in football, but the coach needs to get a hang of that. He needs to go into the transfer market and needs to be active. But the next game is so important and the January transfer window as well.”

The addition of Brazilian midfielder Rafael Crivellaro will serve as a massive boost for JFC, whose creativity and varied range of passing will offer another dimension to their attack.  

In their next challenge on Thursday, Jamshedpur FC will be up against ATK Mohun Bagan, whom they beat last season in the league decider to clinch a historic League Winners Shield. Boothroyd’s side might be low on confidence at the moment, but a win against the Mariners in Kolkata might just provide them the inspiration they need to get their campaign back on track.