Defending champions Chennaiyin FC have had a rather forgettable campaign in the Indian Super League so far. But past records, form and position in the league table take a backseat in a derby.
Chennai boss John Gregory is aware that a derby means much more than three points, especially for the fans and will ensure that his players give their best against Kerala.
“I hope the players appreciate the importance of a derby game. 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 realise how important this match is for the fans.
“They suffered in the first game when they lost to Bengaluru because of the banter. There is a lot of pride at stake. We need a victory to get back in the race somehow. But we also need to support the team.”
Then Englishman spoke about how the atmosphere in the dressing room changed after the win against Pune. But a defeat against Jamshedpur meant that Gregory has to tweak his line-up again and find a winning combination.
“It’s not easy to motivate the team. After the Pune game, everything was different. Winning makes everything better. The atmosphere was good. I have to pick the team, I had to change the team and leave out players. They don’t like me when I do that. I have to deal with that. We tried different ways of motivating our players. But it is not easy in our situation in the last several games.”
The defending champions also have the AFC Cup to focus on and Gregory will have a tough task with the team selection in both competitions.
“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. 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 that as well. If we do not win the ISL, the AFC Cup is a second opportunity.”
Like every other manager, Gregory too had great things to say about Kerala’s fan-base. The Englishman is guilty of not getting the best out of the team and hopes to get it sorted soon.
“I’m expecting Kerala to come here. 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 end up losing 2-1 and David must be really pulling his hair out. They are having a tough time as much as we are. They’ve had a few injuries and he has not had a settled 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. We are not winning matches.”
The unreliability of players has been the main reason behind Chennai’s poor start to the season according to Gregory. The 64-year-old also spoke about the rough patch striker Jeje Lalpekhlua is going through.
“Many of our players were reliable last year, we haven’t quite had that this time around. 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. Jeje’s going through a tough time mainly because we are not making enough chances for him.”