When Chennaiyin FC meets Kerala Blasters at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Thursday, crucial points that both teams dearly need won’t be the only thing at stake.
Chennaiyin has had a disastrous start to the Indian Super League season, claiming only four points from its eight games. It’s been hard trying to live up to the defending champion label and John Gregory’s side would need a dramatic turnaround in fortunes to reach the playoffs. But he insists the Southern derby against Kerala Blasters — another side struggling to get results — is about more than just points.
“I hope the players appreciate the importance of a derby game. The players maybe don’t have to take the same kind of pressure the fans take - the banter, the insults.
“There’s a lot of pride at stake in tomorrow's game. We need three points. We need to get back in the race somehow. But we also need to repay the support that we get from our fans even though we’ve been going through a rough patch”, said Gregory.
Gregory hasn’t lost faith in a playoff spot for his team but admits that it’s not easy to keep his players motivated amidst the poor run of results.
A 3-1 defeat to Jamshedpur FC in its last outing, punctured Chennaiyin FC's spirit and confidence which were riding high momentarily after the win against FC Pune City.
“We try different ways of motivating the players - of getting them switched on to the game when a game’s coming up - but it’s not an easy task when you’ve gone through a situation like we have in the last few days. I’m not getting the best out of my players at the moment,” lamented the Chennaiyin FC head coach.
Kerala Blasters’ struggles have mostly been confined to the final 15 minutes of games. Seeing winning chances squandered and letting leads slip away in the final moments of the game have become frustratingly routine for the Blasters, which, like Chennaiyin, has managed to get just one win.
Yet, his players are not in dearth of motivation, says head coach David James.
“The motivation in the team is good. There’s the realisation that everything is so close and we’re not getting beat by four or five goals.
“We just need one result to turn things around and get a 100 per cent confidence back in the team. And it’s a southern derby as well. What more do you need to motivate your players?,” he said.