Within the first 20 minutes of Monday's Indian Super League (ISL) clash between Odisha FC and Chennaiyin FC, one knew what was to be expected from this encounter. The fare on offer was drab, lacked rhythm and made for painful viewing. The result made for even painful reading for Chennaiyin FC who are ninth on the table after the 2-0 reverse which takes Odisha to the fifth spot, within a point of fourth-placed Mumbai City FC.
It did not help that the match was played on a poor pitch at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. This was only the second ISL game at the venue and the state of the field of play was called into question in the first game as well.
Stringing together passes and orchestrating moves seemed a tough proposition in the initial period of play, with the ball bumping up off loose patches of grass and players losing their footing off the ball while making runs.
"I don’t think that field must be allowed to host games in the ISL until it settles down because there has been lumps of grass coming off. I’m surprised there were no injuries. It was the same field for both teams, so this is not an excuse. This is just a concern going forward," Chennaiyin manager Owen Coyle said with good reason.
However, Odisha adjusted better to the poor conditions and started to create chances after an insipid first 20 minutes. The home team were also helped by erratic defending from Chennaiyin FC.
The story could've been different had Chennaiyin's Nerijus Valskis scored the penalty he won after Shubham Sarangi foolishly tried to wrestle him to the ground while contesting a high-ball. He blazed the spotkick high and wide and that was just one of the many instances of wasteful finishing in the game, at both ends.
Odisha's Nandhakumar Sekar and Aridane Santana took a leaf out of Valskis' book when presented with gilt-edged chances. But comical defending meant Odisha did get that deserved lead, especially after a Marcos Tebar header was harshly ruled out early on in the half. Vishal Kaith was hasty in going out to stop Santana's low ball across the box. Kaith did not get a hand to the cross and neither did Laldinliana on the goalline who fell off balance, leaving Jerry Mawihmingthanga with the easiest of tap-ins.
The second goal, a sweet strike from Vinit Rai within four minutes of the first, broke Chennaiyin FC. Though they had more of the ball in the second half, the Marina Machans never looked like mounting a response akin to what they did against FC Goa in their last game.
Neither Odisha nor Chennaiyin had any rhythm in the second-half as well but the home side could afford to keep the game scrappy, given they were ahead by two goals.
Chennaiyin FC's midfield looked pedestrian. Anirudh Thapa had an average outing while Germanpreet Singh didn't cover himself in glory either. Crivellaro, Coyle's most creative player of late, struggled too. Naturally, their wingers never got any meaningful service, with Lallianzuala Chhangte taken off midway through the second half.
While the victory has boosted Odisha's top-four hopes significantly, the most significant development from the game for Gombau will be how his team managed to hold on to the advantage they gained in the first half. Out of the 15 goals they have conceded so far, 10 have been conceded in the second half.
More worryingly, they have struggled in the dying embers of matches. Six of those 10 goals were conceded in the final 15 minutes of games. But on Monday, that was not the case and Gombau will be pleased that his side grafted out a key result.