This is the first of five successive home games for the Bengal Tigers.

After three back-to-back away fixtures, ATK return to the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata to take on Chennaiyin FC on Thursday in their Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 tie. The reigning champions currently sit eighth on the points table and enter the match on the back of a 0-3 loss to FC Pune City. On Wednesday, the hosts announced Technical Director Ashley Westwood as Teddy Sheringham’s interim replacement, having parted ways with the latter on the same day.

ATK’s pre-match press conference was attended by Westwood who was asked to share his thoughts on taking over from the former Manchester United striker. “I think interim exactly means, in the short-term,” he began.

“Regarding the difficulty, I’ve been a head coach before. I’ve coached for three years in India. I don’t see any difficulty. I’m confident in what I do and with regards to that, it’s part and parcel of football. It’s part and parcel of being a coach. As a head coach, you have a job to do and it’s not difficult at all.”

The former Bengaluru FC coach gave a summary of how events folded in the ATK camp that eventually saw Sheringham getting the sack. “I got a phone call last night, around 8-8.30 pm. It was the CEO (Raghu Iyer). He just had a meeting with our owner (Sanjiv Goenka) and relayed his thoughts that the campaign hadn’t gone as they had envisaged. They were looking for a new head coach and asked if I would help in the immediate future,” he revealed.

“Obviously, I have a contract with the club as technical director. I have a responsibility to fulfil that role. Whatever the owners want me to fill in, I’ll help. Be it grassroots, the youth team, the first team, sweeping the terraces, whatever they want. I’m here to help the club and that’s what I’ll do.”

A change in management usually brings with it extra pressure on the new coach, but the Englishman had a different viewpoint. “We haven’t had a lot of time to instil a massive difference. I hope that we can inject a little freshness. It can be a little luck. But although we’ve lost four games, we haven’t been disgraceful. Some of the games have been (lost by) fine margins. Sometimes, a small percentage can make all the difference. There’s no pressure. Hopefully, we can pull in the right direction and get going,” he stated.

He further continued: “Obviously, we had a good relationship with Teddy. Collectively, what we took out of the (players) draft, we were happy with. It’s not the Indian players’ fault or the foreign players’ fault. There were many reasons – uncontrollable factors, injuries and the fixture pile-up. You will have to collaborate all the data for reasons, and it can be as simple as a little bad luck. I don’t think anybody’s to blame. Everybody’s pushed in the same direction, everybody’s given it their all and the season is not over. Hopefully, we can push on and get into that top four.”

The 41-year-old will be on the touchline when ATK face Chennaiyin, a side against whom they had bowed to a 2-3 defeat earlier in the season. Speaking of the opponents and the overall mindset in the squad, he replied: “With regards to motivation, they’re (ATK) professional players. We play in a fantastic stadium with great fans. Chennai, obviously, is second in the league. They score a lot of goals, are very strong, have three foreigners in their back four, are a huge threat from set-pieces and have some great Indian players. We know Jeje’s (Lalpekhlua) capabilities in scoring goals. It’ll be a good challenge. I’m sure the players will respond.”

Before ending the media session, he also shared what according to him went wrong with the two-time champions this season. “An unfortunate amount of away games and we had some injuries. There was a loss of confidence with one or two players, as the results didn’t come and we’ve had very small margins. Statistically, we’ve done well in the games. Apart from the Pune games, it’s been very tight,” he concluded.


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In the pre-match press conference, Gregory shared how he evaluates their opponent and the kind of impact the injured Robbie Keane will have on the side. “Robbie Keane has already showed in India, what a quality player he is. Obviously, you miss somebody of his ability and talent. I think he helped get the best out of the players around him. I do believe he could be coming back and playing a part in ATK’s season,” he explained.

“They have got some very good footballers. For one reason or another, it hasn’t worked. He (Teddy Sheringham) has not always been able to pick his best team. We have got a great medical team. My head of sports science keeps everybody fit. Literally, tomorrow we have 25 players to choose from. People ask me how come we’ve done so well this season, and that’s one of the reasons. I have a massive problem tomorrow night. Eleven to choose in the team and that’s what it’s been like. I’ve had a problem choosing the bench. It’s a testament to how we train them and prepare them throughout the season.”

He further elaborated, “I regard ATK as the Manchester United of India. They’ve been champions twice. We look up to them. All my players are fired up because it’s ATK. They want to play in this beautiful stadium. At the start of the season, when the fixtures came out, the first thing I did, was to look when we play ATK. The home game (against ATK) was an amazing match. That was one of the best games of my career. Regardless of their league position, they’re the current champions and we look forward to playing them.”

ATK will face Chennai under the management of Ashley Westwood after former head coach Sheringham parted ways with the club on Wednesday. Speaking on it, Gregory commented, “Sometimes, this kind of thing happens and a new guy comes in and suddenly everybody gets a lot of confidence. Things start to change. We saw what happened in NorthEast. They made a change, Avram Grant came in and they got an amazing victory against FC Goa. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and we have to make sure that it doesn’t.”

The 63-year-old was effusive when asked about his own group of players. “Speaking about my own team, we’ve got an amazing bunch of guys,” he replied. “Sometimes words are cheap, but I really mean it. There are no egos in the dressing room. They mix incredibly well. We are a well-knit bunch and we stick together. That has helped us to win matches. As I said earlier, that (keeping everybody fit) has been an important aspect of this club. We don’t have any marquee players as such. We went down a different route and we feel we’ve been vindicated.”

Before leaving, Gregory also stressed why it was crucial to have a good pre-season, leading up to the main league. “Pre-season is vastly important because there you do all the hard work. There’s never a period during the season, when you can do all the things. As I said, I put a lot of trust in my head of sports science. Between us, we try to look after our players. It’s helped us enormously. A lot of that has been down to our pre-season. I think pre-season is extremely important and it’s important that you get it right. From our point of view, we’re delighted with our pre-season,” he finished.