ISL 2018-19: Chennaiyin's John Gregory - We have been too nice to play against

With playoffs out of sight, Chennaiyin will be playing for pride...

Chennaiyin have registered only one win in 13 matches this season and are placed at the bottom in the 2018-19 Indian Super League (ISL) standings. 

Head Coach John Gregory will be hoping to end his team's losing streak of four games when they host Pune City on Saturday at the Marina Arena. The playoffs look like an impossible target for Pune City as well, who are seventh on the table and 10 points adrift of the fourth spot. Newly appointed head coach Phil Brown will be making his debut on the sideline for the Stallions on Saturday.

Speaking on the eve of the game, John Gregory conceded that he has set his eyes on Chennaiyin's AFC Cup campaign. with a playoff spot already ruled out. ISL's defending champions have roped in two Indian players in CK Vineeth and Halicharan Narzary on loan from Kerala Blasters as they look to play with a fewer number of foreigners in the first team. 

"My mind is starting to drift towards the AFC Cup now. We need to do well and get a bit of the pride back.

NEUFC vs Chennaiyin

"We can play the full quota (of foreign players) but then when the AFC Cup and Super Cup comes along, the number of (foreign) players are restricted. We have two new guys who have come in and it kind of helps us with the lack of foreigners in the lineup. I’m more than happy to play with Indian players. We are likely to make one or two (foreign) replacements.

"We had a good chat (with Phil Brown). He’s also going into a situation at Pune where they have an outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs. It is tough for them. They played well in their last match against Goa and kept a clean sheet.

"A new coach gives the team a fresh perspective. It tends to invigorate the players and maybe a different way of playing. We won’t know how they will play until they step out on the pitch. Brown has had a good career. He’s managed in the Premier League."

Gregory said that he is yet to find the right balance in the team. "As one or two people have not been available, others get the chance to come in and do well. Sometimes, it’s like an audition. Last season, we hardly made changes to the first XI. The team picked itself but when a team is not doing well, (we) tend to change things up. We are still changing and searching for that right balance.

Mumbai City vs Chennaiyin

"We’ve got a couple of injuries where some of our best players have not been able to play for us. It has been a season where I’ve not been able to sleep much. At the end of the day, the players need to go out and impress people an the coach. We have a lot more matches to play this season. We want successful campaigns in both the cup competitions and hopefully, we can have a cup at the end of the season. We didn’t do that well in the Super Cup on the back of winning the ISL. We want to do well in the Super Cup this time and salvage some pride."

The Englishman gave an update on long-term injury absentee Dhanpal Ganesh, "Dhanpal Ganesh is recovering very well. He is suffering, more so than us, because he is watching on TV and we are not winning games. When we get him back, we want him 100 per cent fit. We are hoping to see him by end of Feb. hopefully, he can play one ISL game before the AFC Cup starts. He is working hard in his rehab."

The former Aston Villa manager asserted that lack of goals has been Chennaiyin's main issue this season. 

"There is no lack of motivation for the players. We have been outpassing and outplaying opposition but we are not scoring goals. That is an area where we are struggling. The other night, Bengaluru got outpassed and out-possessed but they still won the game because they took their chances. We did so last season but we are not able to do this season.

"We have been a bit too nice to play against this season. Probably, we could do with Sereno and Dhanpal who are not nice to play against."