Port defeated Chennaiyin FC 3-1 in Wednesday’s friendly played in Hua Hin. Chennaiyin, coached by former Villa and Derby boss John Gregory, are playing six pre-season games in Thailand to prepare themselves for the up-coming ISL season. Port are in the middle of one of 2017’s numerous T1 mini-breaks, and will return to action against Super Power on November 8th.
Chennaiyin opted to start the game with their strongest XI, whereas Port went with their second string. The difference between the two sides were Chennaiyin’s foreign contingent, and the intensity at which their team played. Between their fearsome Brazilian centre-half Mailson Alves (27) and John Gregory on the touchline, there never seemed to be a moment where instructions weren’t being barked out. Gregory has clearly emphasised the importance of communication to his charges, and he practices what he preaches, delivering constant instruction as well as some wry critiques of his players’ performance. Being in ear-shot of the Englishman was one of the most entertaining aspects of a first half that offered very little for Port fans to get excited about, although a superb header from a particularly alert member of the ‘crowd’ also drew cheers from the Port bench. Unperturbed by the height on the wayward clearance, the spectator showed superb technique, cushioning his header directly into the path of Meechok, and keeping the game flowing. Admiring claps, and chants of ‘sign him up’ may have been in the spectator’s imagination!
Port went about their business quietly, looking decent at best in defence and midfield but lacking any cutting edge up front. Chennaiyin captain Inigo Calderon (14) and the aforementioned Alves were dominant in defence, with Wuttichai (14) and Tana (99) unable to get anything at all out of them going forward. Dutch winger Gregory Nelson (7) also looked to be dominating Meechok (20), although the youngster stuck to his task and managed not to let the bigger, more powerful Nelson get on the scoresheet. It was no surprise when the visitors’ took the lead. It was their most impressive Indian player Jeje Lalpekhlua (12) who got on the end of a cross from the right, heading the ball back across Watchara (66) with authority and giving Chennaiyin a deserved advantage. Port created a couple of half chances, but never really threatened to break down their well-organized opposition.
Everything was to change in the second half, though. Both sides made numerous substitutions, with Port strengthening and Chennaiyin weakening. Chilean-Palestinian forward Jadue (we’re not sure about his number, as he was wearing a #22 shirt with Rochela’s name on it!) made a rare appearance up front, whilst first-teamers Suarez (5), Nitipong (34) and Pakorn (9) injected a bit more quality in to proceedings for Port. One of Jadue’s first actions in the second half was to let Alves know he wasn’t going to be as much of a pushover as Wuttichai and Tana. He made a late challenge on the Brazilian, sending him crashing to the turf, and invoking hysterical laughter from everyone’s favourite goalkeeping coach Milan Devic on the touchline. Devic proceeded to mutter to himself excitedly in Serbian, while Jadue braced himself for retribution. Fortunately for him, Alves was substituted shortly afterwards, and Port finally started to have some joy going forward.
It took a penalty to get Port back in to the game, and the Port bench were greatly amused by the fact that Jadue stepped up to take it, while sporting his Rochela shirt. Jadue hit his penalty firmly, but it went more or less straight at the ‘keeper, who will have been disappointed to have let it squirm past him. Not quite what El Capitan would have done!
Chennaiyin fought back, though, and soon had a penalty of their own. From our less-than-ideal vantage point, Pravinwat’s (55) tackle was very close to the edge of the area, but the referee adjudged that contact had been made inside. Devic once again sprung in to action, keenly watching goalkeeper Watchara as he prepared to face the spot-kick. Watchara dived to his left, got two strong hands behind the effort, then bounced straight back up to save the follow-up from point-blank range. Magnificent goalkeeping from Port’s third-choice stopper, who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon. Devic roared in celebration from the touchline, high-fiving everyone in sight. Watchara has done his chances of moving up the goalkeeping hierarchy no harm whatsoever.
After the penalty save, it was all Port. Chennaiyin were not playing at anywhere near the intensity of the first half, despite having an almost entirely fresh XI on the pitch. Even Gregory on the touchline was subdued, watching Suarez and Pakorn grab the game by the scruff of the neck and continually cause his rejigged defence problems. Pakorn hit the bar with a superb curling effort which the Chennaiyin goalkeeper did well to get his finger-tips to. He got his revenge on the ‘keeper, though. Anyone who has seen Pakorn take corners form the left knows that he likes to keep his opponents on their toes, and sure enough he embarrassed the Chennaiyin stopper by curling one in to the near post, catching everyone by surprise with yet another direct goal. Shouts of “Ronaldo” from the bench were well received by a grinning Midfield Monk!
Port’s third goal came relatively soon after, with Jadue breaking through the centre and hammering a left-footed effort in to the bottom corner from just inside the area. It was an excellent finish from the man who is clearly playing for a place in the squad in 2018, although we’re not sure that his overall performance merited two goals.
We were fortunate enough to watch the whole game from right next to the dug-outs, so after the game we were able to have a chat with a few of the staff from both sides. John Gregory was particularly accommodating, having a lengthy chat with us about all things Chennaiyin. Here are some of his comments.
The Sandpit: What did you think about the game?
John Gregory: “You’re lucky we took our best players off!”
TS: Your team did play very well in the first half. Very intense!
JG: “That was more or less my First XI. This is only their second pre-season game, so I expect more from them in the coming weeks.
TS: Were you particularly impressed with any Port players?
JG: “I don’t watch the opposition when we play friendlies, I’m completely focused on my own players.”
TS: We could see that! Your club is part-owned by an actor and a cricketer, how do you get on with them?
JG: “And a businesswoman! [Bollywood actor] Abhishek Bachchan, [cricketer] MS Dhoni and [businesswoman] Vita Dani are all fantastic to deal with. I have 100% autonomy over transfers and team management.
TS: Chennaiyin is a very young club, isn’t it?
JG: “We were only founded in 2014, but the club has an excellent philosophy for the future. The owners would rather spend money on developing the grass-roots than go out and get a big-name marquee player. The club is certainly moving in the right direction.”
Thanks to John for chatting with us, and good luck with the upcoming ISL season!
We were also lucky enough to have our picture taken with coach Jadet, and have a chat with Port fitness Coach Rod Pellegrino. The Brazilian came out with the quote of the evening when we asked him about the up-coming game with Super Power, saying “We must take the game very seriously. We are like the Robin Hood of Thai football”. We couldn’t agree more, Rod! We also asked El Capitan why he and Josimar didn’t feature, and he responded “We’ve played many times this season, so it’s good to have a rest.” Are you staying with us next season, David? Are you?! “I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
You tease, you…