ISL 2018-19: "We haven’t reached the heights of last season," says Chennaiyin coach John Gregory
Time is running out for defending champions Chennaiyin FC to get their season back on track. Having won only once in their eight games thus far, John Gregory’s men sit in 9th place in the table.
With the need for positive results more pressing than ever, a derby at home against the Kerala Blasters looms for Chennaiyin.
Coach Gregory is hoping the occasion lifts the performances of his players.
“I hope the players appreciate the importance of a derby game,” quipped Gregory speaking at the pre-match conference. “Sometimes, as a player, you are protected from a rivalry because you are not in sync with the fans of Chennai. If we were to win, it would make their week.”
“The banter, the insults, the players might not have to take as much as the fans. It’s very important for us to get all three points. Our players have to realize the importance of the match to our fans as well.”
Chennaiyin have already played one derby game this season which also happened to be their first game of the season. They ended up losing 0-1 to Bengaluru FC that day and it’s something that Gregory wants to make up for, aside from the win being hugely important for them to save their season.
“They (the fans) suffered in the first game when they lost to BFC because of the banter. There is a lot of pride at stake. We need a victory to get back in the race somehow,” said Gregory.
Chennaiyin go into the Kerala game on the back of a 1-3 reverse away at Jamshedpur FC where the team was completely outplayed. Just in their previous game, they had come from behind to beat FC Pune City 4-2, but that joy was short-lived as they crashed to another defeat against Jamshedpur.
Gregory explained the difficulty in picking the team up after that disappointing result.
“It’s not easy to motivate the team. After the Pune game, everything was different. Winning makes everything better. The atmosphere was good,” he said.
“I had to change the team and leave out players. We tried different ways of motivating our players. But it is not easy in our situation in the last several games.”
The chopping and changing of players is something that Gregory has been forced into due to the team’s form, something that was completely absent last season as Chennaiyin fielded more or less the same team every game.
“Last season, I did not have to do much or say much. It was just there. But you have to learn as a coach how to pick your players up and keep them focused on the job.”
The Chennaiyin coach also wants the fans to back the team at this difficult time looking at the bigger picture: “We have a lot ahead of us in the season and then we have the AFC Cup as well. We need to be switched on. If we do not win the ISL, the AFC Cup is a second opportunity.”
Individual errors across the season, according to Gregory, are what have undone them this season especially on the defensive end.
“There’s been times when you look back at games and a lot of it has to do with individual errors defensively which we rarely made last season. We have not been ruthless defensively,” said Gregory referring to the 16 goals they have conceded this season in just 8 games. They conceded just 19 goals in the whole of the league phase last season.
Goalkeeper Karanjit Singh has come under fire with his below-par performances this season, but Gregory was quick to come to his defence, saying: “I said a couple of times last year Karanjit was making mistakes that weren’t costly. Everyone makes mistakes. But you hope they are not crucial ones. Last time, Karanjit made several good saves. Those things this year, it hasn’t happened for us and we’ve been punished.”
The team’s inability to take the chances that have come their way was also highlighted by the coach: “We had chances to score against Bengaluru but we didn’t take it. But then Miku scored. Then we made errors which cost us matches. We’ve never been a team that has scored goals galore. We tended to win games by scoring first and keeping our noses in front by making fewer mistakes.”
Overall he feels a large number of players are simply not performing at the same level as last year.
“Many of our players were reliable last year. We haven’t quite had that this time around," said Gregory. “Players you would expect not to make errors have made errors. On reflection, I have felt I should have picked somebody else.”
“Collectively we haven’t reached the heights of last time. But now, another game comes around and this is a good chance for us to rectify things.”
Their opponents tomorrow are also desperately in search of a win, something that has eluded them since their very first game of the season. Gregory is expecting the vociferous Manjapadda to make their presence felt in the stadium for the game.
“I was amazed at the number of away fans that came last time Kerala were here. They have a huge fan base. They travel to away games and support their team.”
“I was expecting them to finish off NorthEast last time out when they were 1-0 up. But then they ended up losing 2-1 and David must be really pulling his hair out,” Gregory added referring to the Blasters’ last game.
“They are having as tough a time as we are. They’ve had a few injuries and he has not had a settled team.”
Asked what needs to change for them to get back on track this season Gregory said things needed to start going their way, the responsibility for which lies with him and the team.
"You make things go your way. If it doesn’t, you have to make it go your way. I’m not getting the best out of my team right now and we are not winning matches."