Gregory demands players to fight for berth in AFC Cup team in remaining matches

Defending Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions, Chennaiyin FC will be on the road to Guwahati to play NorthEast United FC in their first-match post the winter break on Saturday. Rooted at the bottom of the table, Chennaiyin are already out of the running for the playoffs, showing just how disappointing their season has been.

Their head coach, John Gregory, attended his pre-match press conference a day prior to facing the Highlanders. Speaking in reference to whether the month-long winter break helped his team regain their focus, the Englishman said, “Yes, without any question. Its been a great time everyone connected with the team to reassess where we are at, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there. So, it’s come at a very good time and enabled us to bring a couple of players.”

Continuing on the same note, the Englishman added, “Our focus is very much on the ISL. We have six matches to play. We want to win all six games. We want to put some points on the boards. We want to try and gain as much momentum as we can to take us to the AFC Cup which begins in March. We have two games to play in the first two weeks of March. And the Super Cup which will follow once the ISL is finished. So, we still have a lot to play for in that respect.”

With a mammoth 15 points separating Chennaiyin from NorthEast United in fourth, it’s fair to say that Gregory wouldn’t be too optimistic of achieving what looks like a lost task. Admitting to the fact, the 64-year-old said, “Possibly (our playoff hopes are over). Twelve months ago, we came here for a league game when we were top of the league and we came here and didn’t perform very well. They beat us 1-3 on the night and we were certainly under more pressure than to maintain a playoff position. So, it gives the players a bit more of a chance to relax a little bit knowing that we are not going to get into the playoff position. But there are other issues at stake. We go into the AFC Cup on March 6. All my players want to be in the tournament. So, it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Gregory also expressed his delight at Jeje Lalpekhlua ending his goal-drought and finally finding the back of the net in India’s match against Thailand. “Very happy. Exceedingly happy. I wasn’t happy that the commentators kept reminding everybody that he hadn’t scored for such a long time. A striker will always be very happy when he scores. Sometimes regardless of the outcome. He scored the fourth goal that night which literally confirmed that they were going to win the game. We were very happy that he scored. (Anirudh) Thapa scored in the same match. We were delighted the way our boys played during the campaign. Let’s hope it has opened the gates up and he can start adding to it as we go on,” he said.

Concluding with his assessment of NorthEast United FC, Gregory voiced, “NorthEast have been the surprise team of the season. We were expecting Jamshedpur FC to be challenging as they were last year. And certainly, FC Goa and Bengaluru FC, you would expect them to be challenging as well. But certainly, NorthEast have been a surprise package. They started exceptionally well. December wasn’t a successful month for them. They got two draws and two defeats during that time. They conceded five against Goa in their last match. But they’ve done exceptionally well. They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the ISL.”

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