ISL 2017/18: "The season starts now," says Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory ahead of Bengaluru FC game
Chennaiyin FC is gearing up for a mammoth clash in the ISL as they host leaders Bengaluru FC in Chennai on Tuesday evening. Chennaiyin is in second place in the points table, four points behind Bengaluru though with a game in hand.
Needless to say, it will be a match of high stakes tomorrow at the 'Marina Arena'.
Head coach John Gregory is back at the helm for a home game after quite some time; he was forced to watch the game against FC Pune City from the stands. The former Aston Villa manager though is looking forward to this big clash and believes the season well and truly begins now.
"For me, the season starts tomorrow," said Gregory while addressing media ahead of the game.
"This is where you find out how good you are. We’ve been jostling so far. When the race actually starts, you are in a slightly better position. We are ready for a start. We have six more matches, but as you know if you’re in a better position now you have an advantage. In that respect, the race starts tomorrow night and we’ve got 5 matches in 17 days," he added.
Gregory believes that while his team currently sit in second place in the table, there is still much work to be done.
"We are in the second position in the grid but we need to keep playing well. This period will determine our final position," he said.
He was keen to point out the danger of writing off the chances of other sides outside the top four too soon, citing the Kerala Blasters as an example: "Kerala lost games earlier, but they have proven that if you put together a good run at this stage, you can reach the playoffs. What has happened so far doesn’t mean a great deal. If you can put together three wins now, you can reach the semifinals."
Chennaiyin has enjoyed a 10-day break since their last game owing to some of the fixtures being rearranged and as a result, it will see them play five matches in under 20 days in the weeks ahead. They last played on January 25th.
However, as a result of the extended break, Chennaiyin will be playing a grueling schedule in this final stretch of the league phase. Gregory though is not in a mood to complain.
"We’ve never complained about the schedule. Everybody has the same problem. All teams have had a large number of games in a short space of time. We should have played BFC (Bengaluru) on 31st (January) which would have been easier. I don’t think it has been a problem. We just try to move on and not give extra thought about it," said Gregory.
He also said that long periods of rest are not always a blessing as sometimes it helps a team stay in rhythm when it plays regularly.
"Sometimes, it is great to play every 3-4 days. After the NorthEast defeat, we played ATK within 3-4 days and we won. So we could erase the negative feeling. So, a longer rest period doesn’t really put you at an advantage.
"BFC has been getting positive results and they will want to get back out there on the field. All my team is fit. We are very confident," he added mentioning that there are no injury worries as far as his squad was concerned for tomorrow.
For Chennaiyin, Jeje Lalpekhlua is the top scorer with seven goals to his name. One of those goals came in the crucial away tie where Chennaiyin beat Bengaluru 2-1. And Gregory was full of praise for his lead striker while also acknowledging that responsibilities in the team are well spread out.
"Even though Jeje has scored 7 goals, he did not start one of those games. It’s a testament to his ability that he has scored that much," said Gregory.
"Everyone has chipped in with goals. So it is great that everyone has the responsibility to score. They will also try and defend together. There is no huge onus on one person. It could become a burden if we expect Jeje to score all the goals. I’m delighted that everybody has contributed this season."
The match in Bangalore earlier on in the season was a tense affair, being a derby with passions running high. And the Chennaiyin coach expects a similar atmosphere tomorrow evening.
"The fans contribute to the atmosphere. We took a lot of our fans in the reverse fixture. That kind of inspires a derby atmosphere. There were a few incidents which got a bit out of hand, but everything is fine now. Everyone is passionate about their own team. That is football. I hope the players show the same kind of passion we showed earlier in this fixture," said Gregory to wrap up proceedings.