In their short history in the Indian Super League (ISL), Jamshedpur FC have been the league's eternal underachievers. They begin each season with a new manager (they're up to their fourth in their fourth year), a bunch of exciting signings and lots of promise. On the back of their worst campaign, an 8th place finish with just four wins, Owen Coyle's appointment in August had felt like a watershed moment, and a genuine coup in many ways, considering all that Coyle had achieved with Chennaiyin in 2019-20.
Any hopes for a rapid transition under their new manager were shattered inside 54 seconds of their opening game, as Anirudh Thapa made a free run inside the box and gave Chennaiyin the lead with a stunning finish. The goal was followed by half an hour of relentless Chennaiyin pressure - the Jamshedpur defence completely out of shape and devoid of ideas to stop the onslaught. They did make the occasional foray forward, and even threatened on the counter, but overall, it seemed like one-way traffic.
Chennaiyin threatened with every single attack, with the majority of their eight first-half shots coming inside the first 20 minutes or so. The second goal came from the spot, Isaac Vanmalsawma bringing down Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Esmaël Gonçalves, who could have had a hat-trick by that time, scoring the resulting penalty.
All signs pointed to an embarrassing end to Coyle's first game in charge.
Then the drinks break came.
Whatever Coyle said to his players during those couple of minutes did the trick. They came back looking like a side with a plan, playing with intent, putting in some hard tackles and occupying the vastness of grass they had let Chennaiyin players dance on until that point. Chennaiyin still remained the better side, and still created goalscoring opportunities, but at least now, they were made to work for it.
Last season's top scorer Nerijus Valskis, who followed Coyle from Chennaiyin to Jamshedpur, had been forced out of position until that point. He was still making the occasional killer pass, but was largely forced into hold-up play, away from the six-yard box, where he's most productive. The change in approach had a ripple effect on those around him: Jamshedpur midfielders improved their movement and positioning, allowing wingers Isaac and Jackichand Singh to run into wide spaces, which meant Valskis could play more directly rather than with his back to the goal. They were rewarded almost instantly - Valskis getting to the end of a Jackichand cross with a brilliant run and a strong header to pull one back.
They were clearly outmatched by Chennaiyin's cohesion and chemistry - eventually losing 2-1, but at least for the last hour of the game, they showed a fighting spirit that was so typical of Coyle's Chennaiyin in the second half of last season.
Despite Jamshedpur's transformation, Chennaiyin could have, and should have put the game well beyond doubt. New coach Csaba László may have lost a proven goalscorer in Valskis, but still seems to have inherited the best elements of Coyle's revolution in 2019-20. Two of those elements -- Rafael Crivellaro and Thapa - were particularly impressive on the night.
Laszlo also seems intent on continuing the way they played last season: Wear opponents down with relentless, attacking football, and despite his multiple misses on the night, Gonçalves looks like a strong addition up front. They got the deserving win for their attacking enterprise, but Laszlo's bigger challenge may lie at the back, where Eli Sabia's new defensive partners looked vulnerable, and might have cost them against better sides. Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith also had a howler which went unpunished.
For Coyle and Jamshedpur, the rebuild begins now, and despite the loss, he can take encouragement from the fact that his players responded to his words after a terrible start. Finding out their flaws in the very first game could actually work in his favour, and 2-1 isn't the most disheartening scoreline to look at.
Besides, he has been here before.
Perhaps this is why Jamshedpur got Coyle. A manager who won't give up at the first hurdle, and will keep working hard until he finds a solution.
Perhaps when we look back at Jamshedpur's season, that water break half an hour in might well turn out to be their watershed moment.
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