ISL 2018-19: "Hard work and patience key to victory against stubborn ATK," says John Gregory

The defending champions are still looking for their first home win of the season having played four times with three losses and one draw (Image Courtesy: ISL)
The defending champions are still looking for their first home win of the season having played four times with three losses and one draw (Image Courtesy: ISL)

It’s a quick turnaround for Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League as they get ready to host ATK on Sunday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai.

The defending champions are still looking for their first home win of the season having played four times with three losses and one draw.

Their most recent game ended in a 0-0 stalemate against Kerala Blasters FC this past Thursday despite Chennaiyin FC having been much the dominant side and having a number of good goal-scoring chances in the encounter.

Scoring goals have been a problem for the champs and John Gregory admitted that breaking down a solid ATK unit wasn’t going to be easy.

“Lots of hard work, lots of patience, more confidence”, replied Gregory when asked what it would take to get three points against Steve Coppell’s ATK side who have conceded only eight goals in all so far and come into this game on the back of three straight clean sheets."

But Gregory felt the players’ confidence is better after the game against the Blasters: “I could see in the players’ body language that they took a lot of confidence from the Kerala game. They know they should have won that game so they’re obviously frustrated with the result.”

“But they performed well and when the game was finished they had given everything they had. That’s the only thing I ask of my boys – that they give it their all and not leave anything behind”, added Gregory.

Chennaiyin’s coach knows how tough it is to score against a Coppell team and said that ATK had gotten stronger now with the return of central defender Andre Bikey: “Since Bikey’s come back they’ve been even better. I believe they’ve got 3 clean sheets in a row now. He’s just given them an added strength.”

While ATK’s defensive solidity will prove to be a tough nut to crack, Gregory also stressed the importance of not forgetting about their attack, especially on set-pieces.

“They rely a lot on set-pieces. So it’s up to us to not really give them cheap free-kicks and unnecessary fouls in our half. This season with Lanza (Manuel Lanzarote) they like to exploit his delivery on set-pieces”, he added.

Chennaiyin FC is in a desperate position in the table with just 5 points to show from their 9 games and he is aware that his side are capable of getting picked off on the counter as they go in search of goals. He felt Coppell’s teams have always had that ability hit on the break at pace and something his team will have to guard against.

“In the second half against Kerala we lost our patience a little bit and gave the ball away a lot more which gave them an opportunity. Most of it was down to us not having scored despite having played so well. A lot of the younger players especially erred in possession. That’s something we’ll have to be careful about and not do against ATK”, Gregory exclaimed.

Defensively Chennaiyin have been all over the place this season as compared to their title-winning campaign last time around. Their clean sheet against Kerala was just their second of the season.

“Clean sheets are a good habit”, said Gregory referencing that game. “I thought Mailson and Eli Sabia were terrific the other day. They just need to keep doing that every single night and not worry about what’s going on at the other end of the pitch.”

The two centre-backs are also a threat on set-pieces, an area the coach felt his team had not quite made the best of. “We’ve had opportunities from set-pieces where perhaps we could have done a lot better, especially as far as where the ball is delivered.

Chennaiyin FC made a change in the goalkeeping position last game with Karanjit Singh sitting out and Sanjiban Ghosh taking his place.

Gregory, however, said it had to do with the veteran keeper suffering a groin strain and that it would be a game-day decision on who takes up the keeper’s jersey.

The Englishman also believes that his team can still make it to the playoffs, citing the example of Kerala last year:

“We need a big December. We need nine points from the next three games to be back in with a shout. When David (James) went to Kerala last year they had almost no chance, but they put together a couple of wins and came within a sniff of a playoff spot. That can happen.”

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Edited by Alan John
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