John Gregory enjoys an Indian summer after Chennaiyin win ISL title
John Gregory enjoys an Indian summer after Chennaiyin win ISL title
John Charles Gregory, the Chennaiyin FC coach, is only 63 and too young to recall his namesake’s glory years with Leeds United and Juventus, but there was undoubtedly a touch of the British about the manner in which his side subdued table-topping Bengaluru FC on their home turf.
In front of 25,753 fans, Chennaiyin went a goal behind in the eighth minute — scored by Sunil Chhetri, the finest Indian footballer of his generation — but the manner in which they regrouped and then proceeded to boss a game they won 3-2 brought back memories of Gregory’s best years as a manager.
He had learned from one of the best as a midfielder with Queens Park Rangers. In 1982, when still in the old second division, QPR — managed by Terry Venables, who as national team manager would give English football its most memorable summer since 1966 — reached the FA Cup final, losing to Tottenham Hotspur in a replay. The next season, with Gregory as one of the lynchpins, QPR won promotion. In their first season back in the top flight, they finished fifth and won as many games (22) as a legendary Liverpool side that won a treble of league, League Cup and European Cup.
Gregory’s first big break as a manager came in 1998, when he was given the Aston Villa job. At a club where he had spent two successful years as a player, Gregory and his team hit the ground running, winning eight games in a 12-game unbeaten start to the season. The ISL season lasted four months from kick-off to final whistle. Had that been the case in England, Gregory would have become the first English manager to win a Premier League title.
Heading into the New Year in 1999, Villa sat on top of the table with 39 points from 20 games. But as winter took hold, and the paucity of their resources began to tell, they slipped down the table, finishing with 55 points in sixth place. The next season, Gregory took them to the FA Cup final — but a David James blooper, capitalized on by Chelsea’s Roberto di Matteo, meant that there would be only heartache.
Gregory’s career trajectory has been all downhill since, taking in ill-fated stints at Derby County and QPR, two of his former clubs, and spells in Israel and Kazakhstan. His last job in England was with Crawley Town in League One, and while contemporaries like Sam Allardyce have bounced from job to job, Gregory is largely a forgotten man.
They will not forget him in Chennai though. Appointed in 2017 to succeed Marco Materazzi, his team was built around experienced but little-known foreign players and promising Indian talent. Their composure was the key in the final, as was the game plan Gregory conceived. In the regular season, when Bengaluru won 13 of their 18 games, Chennaiyin had won on their rival’s turf largely by disrupting the passing game favored by Albert Roca, the coach who was once Frank Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona.
In the final, Roca opted for a 3-5-2, with Eric Paartalu, the physically imposing Estonian-Australian, withdrawn into a center-back role. When Dimas Delgado, the Spaniard who had pulled the midfield strings all season, went off injured just seconds before Chennaiyin took the lead, any semblance of control disappeared.
Bengaluru had lots of the ball in the second half, but it was Chennaiyin, with Gregory constantly shouting instructions from the sideline, who were far more effective with it. That authority culminated in a wonderful third goal, curled in beautifully by Raphael Agusto, once a youth prospect with Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro.
Bengaluru did not take the defeat well. The stands were largely empty within minutes, and Roca was moved to say: “Everybody knows we finished first, eight points above Chennaiyin. The players did an incredible job. I am sad for them and the fans. But that’s football.”
Gurpreet Sandhu, his goalkeeper, went a step further. “We are the champions because we won the league stage,” he said petulantly.
Gregory, who once trudged up the old steps at Wembley to collect a loser’s medal, was having none of it. “I was honestly disappointed to hear these words,” he said. “We won the cup is what I know.”
They certainly did. And while it does not make up for those long-ago disappointments with Villa, it is something for the mantelpiece.
THE OPEN, DAY TWO: Who is contending at Carnoustie?
SECOND ROUND: Several stars started the second round with work to do, the cut mark looks like it will be at the 3-over or 2-over mark. Tiger Woods, Phil MIckelson and Jordan Spieth are all over par so need a decent round to stay for the weekend. It is wet in Scotland, for the first time in a while, here is how the big names are faring...
ZACH JOHNSON, 6-under
The 2015 champion again showed he is to be feared on links courses as he fired a fine 4-under 67 to tak the clubhouse lead. One of the best putters around he will surely be in the mix come Sunday. "Everything is coming together to a point where I should be in contention more often," the American said.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD, 5-under
The Englishman came into the tournament as one of the favorites and on the evidence of this round it is not hard to see why. The course record holder (set last year) fired a brilliant 6-under 65, can he get his hands on a first Major this weekend? "We are only two days in, come Sunday I would like to be in the same spot. You put all the practice in for this and you have to go out and play golf, but it is easier said than done," he said.
RORY MCILROY, 4-under
Another solid round for the 2014 champion, he played within himself, but would have wlaked off the course thinking of what might have been. He gave himself plenty of birdie opportunities but is not far off the lead and will doubtless fancy his chances, especially if he can make a few more putts. "Right now I am feeling good about it," he said.
DUSTIN JOHNSON, 6-over
The American came arrived at Carnoustie as the favorite but left as the first world No. 1 not to make the cut since Luke Donald in 2011. A one-over 72 was not enough to repair the damage done by his opening 76 on Thursday.
FIRST ROUND: That's it then, everyone has had a go at this famous old course and it is American Kevin Kisner who leads on -5 after the first day. Northern Ireland's hope Rory McIlroy sits three shots back on -2, and after a topsy-turvy round, Tiger Woods is level.
It was not such a good day for 2017 winner Jordan Spieth, who dropped four shots on the final four holes to finish +1 for the day. Here's a look at the biggest names and how they fared on day one...
DUSTIN JOHNSON, 5-over
He came in as a lot of people's favorite to win the Open Championship, but the American world No. 1 has had an afternoon to forget. Never finding his rhythm, he shot a five-over-par 76 and now faces a massive uphill struggle just to make the weekend. Hope for the rest of the field...
TIGER WOODS, Even-par
The 14-time Major winner finished off his first round with a par, and he's level par for the day too. A very neat and tidy round of 71 for the American, and he looked a more composed and in-control figure than he has done of late. His successful holes were met with raucuous cheers, might be a crowd favorite for the Claret Jug?
KEVIN KISNER, 5-under
The American was the early leader firing a 66 in the early benign conditions. The world No.33 was not thought of as a possible winner, his best finish at an Open was tied for 54th last year. Can he stay near the top of the leaderboard until Sunday?
RORY MCILROY, 2-under
Looking for his first Major in four years the world No.8 started with a solid round of 69. Two-under for the tricky back nine will give him confidence heading into the second round as he goes in search of his second Claret Jug.
DANNY WILLETT, 2-under
The Englishman has endured a torrid time since he memorably won the Green Jacket two years ago. But a recent upturn in form continued at Carnoustie and it would not be a shock to see him up near the top of the leaderboard into the weekend.
JON RAHM, 2-under
The tempestuous Spaniard has all you need to win a Major, but is yet to get his hands on one of the top-four prizes. He made a good start in Scotland, carding a 69 in a round that featured only two birdies. He will fancy his chances of contending come Sunday evening.
RICKIE FOWLER, 1-under
Three birdies and two bogeys saw the American open up with a solid, if unspectacular round. The world No. 7 has long down well on links courses so expect him to make a challenge on Friday and Saturday in a bid to win he first Major.
JORDAN SPIETH, 1-over
It all started so well for the defending champion. He was 3-under through 11 and looking set for the clubhouse lead. But then disaster struck on the 15th where a double bogey was followed up with bogeys on 16 and 17 to leave him to card a 72.
JUSTIN ROSE, 1-over
A birdie at the last would have at least left him leaving the court with a smile, but deep down he would know that being one of the earlier starters he should have done better than an up-and-down round of 72. He is desperate to add to his one Major and he has work to do if he is to get Major No. 2 this week.
PATRICK REED, 4-over
The Masters champion talked a good game coming into the tournament (when does he not?). But he was left scratching his head after a 75 left him well off the pace at Carnoustie. He never really got going after a double bogey at the second left him playing catch up, a bogey on the last summed up his day.