Chennai City registered a stunning 2-1 win over table-toppers Minerva Punjab to blow the title race wide open at the JLN Stadium on Friday (March 2, 2018).
Soosairaj opened the scoring as early as in the fifth minute of the match before Chencho Gyeltshen restored the parity in the 26th minute. Chennai City FC’s newly recruited Aleksander Rakic beat the offside trap on the hour-mark to get the lead once again which eventually, proved the difference between the two teams.
Kabir Thaufique continued in between the sticks for Soundararajan’s side and the Veniamin Schumeiko and Dharmaraj Ravanan were paired at the center of the defense as expected. Skipper Soosairaj was fielded in support of Aleksander Rakic who lead the line for the Southerners.
Last game’s goalscorer Akash Sangwan secured in the starting lineup for the table-toppers. Star winger Chencho Gyeltshen had the support from William Opoku upfront as Minerva Punjab sought crucial three points which would be a massive leap towards the Hero I-League finish line.
Chennai City stunned Minerva Punjab five minutes into the match with a hammer-blow from skipper Soosairaj. Edwin Vanspaul’s cross from the right fell to the Indian midfielder inside the box and although his initial shot towards goal was kept out by Kiran Limbu, he made no mistake on his second try to give the home side an unexpected lead.
The early goal was the wake-up alarm that the Minerva players needed. Chencho Gyeltshen started getting involved in the game immediately. In the 15th minute, he nutmegged two Chennai defenders before surging into the box but Kabir was alert to rush off his line and collect the ball before the Bhutanese could get a shot away.
In the 22nd minute, Kabir came up with a brilliant diving save to his right to keep out a curling free-kick effort by William Opoku that looked destined to hit the net.
The much-anticipated equalizer came four minutes later when Amandeep Singh tested the Chennai backline with a long ball into the box for Chencho. The ‘Bhutanese Ronaldo’ brought the ball down with his feet before sending a powerful effort into the net to make it 1-1.
Chennai City could have dampened Minerva’s hopes a minute later when Sebastian’s through-ball reached Aleksander Rakic’s feet but the forward placed his shot inches wide of Limbu’s goal.
Soosairaj’s curling free-kick was punched out by Kiran at the stroke of half-time but the scorer of the opening goal soon turned provider at the hour-mark to help Chennai City regain their lead.
The Indian midfielder’s through-ball found Rakic inside the box and the foreign forward made amends for his earlier miss by slotting the ball home.
A desperate Minerva piled up the pressure in the dying stages of the match but was not able to break open a sturdy Chennai City backline who did just enough to register a full-time result that threw the title race wide open.
Chennai City leapfrogs Churchill Brothers FC Goa with 19 points from 18 matches whereas the Goan outfit who’ll face Mariners tomorrow are two points shy having played as many matches fewer.
Minerva Punjab FC is still leading the race with 32 points from 17 matches but Kingfisher East Bengal, NEROCA FC, and Mohun Bagan all are still very much alive on the title hunt as Hero I-League is approaching to another season when the winner will be decided not before the final day.