John Gregory: If our defensive game improves, we can challenge for playoffs

The Chennaiyin FC coach says that his team must cut out the defensive errors if it has ambitions of reaching the playoffs.

John Gregory acknowledges where his team needs to improve.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

Chennaiyin FC boss John Gregory was left to rue more defensive mistakes as the home side threw away two-goal leads twice to lose 4-3 to NorthEast United here on Thursday. The champion has lost all its three matches so far and is bottom of the league table.

The loss of Dhanpal Ganesh to injury has forced the Englishman to start with three different central midfield combinations in as many games.

Gregory made the decision to move right-back Inigo Calderon in midfield backing his prior experience of playing in that role. While Chennaiyin got off to a rapid start with two goals in 15 minutes, Calderon and Anirudh Thapa ceding possession in crucial areas of the pitch allowed NorthEast to play its way back into the game.

Gregory defended Thapa for his usage of the ball and claimed that the 20-year-old is the ‘best passer at the club’. He said, “Sometimes we get that with young players in particular. Thapa is one of the best passers at the club. 

"Today, he gave the ball away a couple of times. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes to that sort of things and you just hope that with the experience that he gains, he will improve. As he grows older and matures, he will appreciate how important ball retention is as a midfield player.”

Read: Ogbeche powers NorthEast to comeback win

With fifteen matches left in the league, the former Aston Villa coach remains hopeful of challenging for a place in the playoffs. “In all three matches, we have had good opportunities to score goals and we have given away poor defensive errors which have been punished. If that side of the game is to improve, we are not far away from challenging for a playoff position,” said Gregory.

Bartholomew Ogbeche’s 10-minute hat-trick helped NorthEast turn the tables on Chennaiyin in the first half. The Nigerian, who was handed the captain's armband, came in for praise from his coach Eelco Schattorie.

“Barth (Ogbeche) scoring three goals is what he is signed for. Even if he hadn’t scored his goals, I am extremely happy with him as the captain. He is an extension of me in the field with the way he deals with the players. A striker sometimes is lazy but he worked until the last minute and helps with the organisation,” said Schattorie.

The Dutchman had emphasized the importance of defending well from set pieces in the lead-up to this game. However, AIFF's decision to ban the first-choice goalkeeper T. P. Rehenesh for violent conduct on the eve of the match forced him to alter his plans.

“Twenty four hours before the game, they (AIFF) tell us that our goalkeeper is suspended,” said a miffed Schattorie. “That means I don’t get any time to prepare my other goalkeeper (Pawan Kumar). In the last training before the game, we had a relaxed training. Pawan didn’t play too many games last year so we didn’t know how that would work out.”

He added, “We went 2-0 behind I don’t think it was because they (Chennaiyin) were aggressive or that good. It was our mistakes. We were losing a lot of balls on the wings. We conceded the corner for the first goal and the ball for the second goal because of that. The turnaround was more about looking at ourselves and being more aware than anything else."