Both managers played against each other through the 1970s in English football but this is the first time they will faceoff as coaches.

Jamshedpur have had a decent start in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 with nine points from six games. They head into their clash against Chennaiyin FC at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur on Thursday after a win against Bengaluru FC in their previous outing. Even though they have nine points so far, their head coach Steve Coppell admitted that scoring goals is something his side needs to improve on.

“I agree that goal conversion is a big issue for us. It’s obvious looking at the number of games we have had, the goals we scored. But it is not because of lack of trying. As always, we are working very hard, training on the field to try and score more goals. But at the same time, we have not conceded many. So, there is no way one way of being successful in football. Thankfully there are many other ways. Maybe our way is not the same as everybody else’s, but we’re doing ok,” he told reporters at the pre-match press conference.

The Englishman had mixed news for Jamshedpur fans on the injury front. “Mehtab (Hossain) is fit, Anas (Edathodika) is not fit. Anas has been away getting some treatment on his feet and he is expected today. I think he is returning sometime today. So hopefully then we can incorporate him into team training and then we will quickly draft him back into the squad,” Coppell said.

He continued: “I don’t know if he (Anas) will play on January 5 (against Mumbai City FC) because we have not seen him for three weeks. We sent him to one place where he could get concentrated treatment. So, he’s had that treatment. He is now pain free. The question is not about his fitness. The question is how much fitness has he lost in the last three weeks. He is a fit man, obviously. So hopefully he’ll be back sooner rather than later. If not on the fifth, then certainly the game after that against Goa.

When asked for his thoughts on current table-toppers Chennai ahead of their first encounter this season, Coppell said: “After seven games, Chennai are top of the table. So, they are as such the best team after seven games. They have lost a couple of matches. The first one I think they could have easily got something from that game. Goa were excellent in the first 45 minutes but then Chennai came back into it. They also lost to Mumbai which was a very dubious penalty if I remember correctly. So, they are not top of the table by accident.”

He added, “They are top of the table because they are a good team and have some good individual players. So, it’s a great challenge for us but as always, it’s also a challenge we are looking forward to. So, we’ll welcome them, but we want to make the welcome a little bit warm when we kick off tomorrow evening.”

The 62-year-old spoke about his delight at the improvement of their home pitch. “The pitch condition is improving. The first game it was obviously terrible. The second game it was slightly better. Just walking on the pitch now, there seems to be a lot more growth. There are new areas of growth. There are still patchy areas. They are making new replacements. But I am certain it will be a better, firmer surface than the last two games,” Coppell said.

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Chennaiyin FC, the southerners will be looking to extend their one-point lead at the top of the table and their head coach John Gregory is expecting a battle against Jamshedpur, who have the meanest defence in the league, having conceded just once this season.

“I know that Steve’s team will be very hard working. When I stayed in England, his players always worked very hard. If you don’t work hard, you don’t play in his team. And we’ve always watched them on TV many times this season and they always work very hard, every single player. So, you know when you play against them, you have to compete,” Gregory told reporters at the pre-match press conference.

He continued: “You have to be ready for a battle. So, all my players know exactly the kind of game that we will be expecting tomorrow night. It will be a tough game seeing they don’t concede many goals. Not scored many goals either so far. But the fact that their defence is very, very tight will make it a really, really tough game for us. But we are very aware of what to expect. The pitch has improved. I am not so nervous about the pitch as I was previously.”

The 63-year-old also fondly recalled his playing days against his counterpart in the dugout, Jamshedpur head coach Steve Coppell. “Steve and I have played against each other back in the late 70’s. I had black hair and he had hair,” Gregory quipped. “He was an outstanding player. Very humble. I don’t think we have coached against each other. We were in different divisions at various times. But he did a great job for Kerala last year and he is doing a great job this year too.”

When asked for his thoughts on there being no relegation in the ISL, Gregory added: “I think it’s a good thing there isn’t relegation. As a coach you see what happens in Europe. They change the coaches every six months. There is a lot of instability in football clubs. Sometimes coaches don’t get the amount of time they should get to do the job as best as they can because the owners conceive that they slide towards the relegation zone and it’s time for them to change the coach.”