The southern derby is one of the most awaited games this season.

Kerala Blasters FC welcome Chennaiyin FC in another potentially feisty southern derby at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 on Friday. Last season’s finalists have had a resurgence since  David James came to the helm as head coach, but they need a maximum of six points from their remaining two fixtures to stand any chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

Speaking to the media at the pre-match press conference was James himself and he explained the reason behind the change in Kerala’s fortunes since his arrival. “When I came in, there were some question marks regarding the team,” he stated. “However, from day one there was an understanding that the Kerala Blasters is not just about the players on the football field. It’s about everybody who is involved with the club; the support staff, the fans and everybody. Kerala Blasters have a very talented squad with a lot of self-belief. So, my job is made very much easy when you have such good players and support staff. And now, Kerala are in a position where they have a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.”

The Englishman acknowledged the splendid support from the Kerala fans, while also admitting that it can sometimes inadvertently give the opposition a lift. “The support that we get home and away from our fans, the twelfth man, is very valuable,” James remarked. “But one of the problems of having the best fans in the country is that other people enjoy playing in front of them as well. So, everybody who comes into the Hero ISL will know how good our fans are and they have an opportunity to play in front of the best crowd in ISL. So, it’s not always 100% in our favour in that sense.”

The 47-year also stressed what needed to be done by Kerala in their last two games. “We expect Chennaiyin to try and win the game to get over the line,” he said. “As for ourselves, we have to win. Six points is all we can go for. I think we are in a scenario where we may get the six points, and it still would not matter. But the same thing always comes up: we need six points.”

Before wrapping up, James conceded that even though keeping clean sheets have been tough for Kerala this season, scoring is more important. “Kerala Blasters and clean sheets has been a bit of an oxymoron this season!” he quipped. “Clean sheets always give you confidence. At the same time, a 0 – 0 draw tomorrow won’t do us any good. But yes, if you score some goals and keep a clean sheet, then the coach is obviously very happy.”

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Chennaiyin FC visit the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi to take on Kerala Blasters FC in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 on Friday. The 2015 Hero ISL champions have picked up just five points from their previous four matches and will be looking to get a vital win against the Blasters to secure their position in the top four, besides also earning bragging rights in the southern derby.

Addressing the media at the pre-match press conference was the visitors’ head coach John Gregory and he began by talking about the hectic schedule his side have endured ahead of the Kerala clash. “Prior to this game, we had four games in 12 days and it was a really tough schedule for us,” he stated. “We had to play games and recover and then rest for a day before travelling to the next venue and playing another game. And I had not changed my team that much. I think I had literally seven players who played all the four matches and the entire 90 minutes every game. So, it has been a huge workload for them.”

Gregory, however, lauded his players for playing their part to a tee during the busy period. “I am delighted with the amount of points we managed to get from those four matches,” he said. “One of the reasons why we are where we are at the table is because we have an amazing work ethic. The ways the boys train, the way they recover, the way they go into every match. So, we have had 4-5 days of rest, which is unusual. You can rest assure that my boys are in really, really good shape and are obviously looking forward to this game tomorrow.”

Regarding opponents Kerala, the Englishman admitted that while they had a poor start to their campaign, the team have performed well under the management of David James, with their recent results being proof. “When we played them (Kerala Blasters FC) last time, they were really struggling,” Gregory recalled. “The players were struggling, and the team was struggling to get results. But then the new coach David (James) comes in. He’s obviously well-known to the Kerala fans. And he comes in with a really positive attitude.”

The 63-year-old added: “He’s come in and changed the entire team. He’s given a license to play offensively to try and win every single game. He’s just had the attitude and his team has gone for it every single match. Consequently, they have managed to put a huge number of points on the board to give them a chance. He’s changed everything in the football club. He’s done remarkably well to get Kerala into a position where they still have got a chance.”

Chennai are currently third in the table with 28 points from 16 games, but Gregory opined that staying ahead of the chasing pack in the race for a top-four finish is difficult. “The hardest thing is being up front,” he remarked. “It is easier when you are coming from behind; then nothing is expected. But if somebody was to put together a few results, the teams above them would start to drop points. But this is football. That is how things pan out.  And when you are out there at the front, you are the one everybody is trying to pull back.”