The Indian Super League (ISL) tie between Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC on Tuesday played out exactly as many expected it to - an even contest between two well-drilled outfits who are deservedly placed first and second on the table.
However, Bengaluru FC would win through 3-1 and extend their lead at the top of the table to a whopping seven points, with much of that down to some uncharacteristic errors from the Chennaiyin backline which has been pretty solid throughout the season.
What it also meant was that Roca's team avenged their loss at home in the reverse fixture while Chennaiyin FC were left to lick their wounds and gear up for a crucial part of the season.
Last time John Gregory's team lost at home was in their season opener when a poor start to the game cost them in a 2-3 defeat to FC Goa. Unfortunately, it cost them again as Bengaluru took the lead within two minutes at the Marina Arena.
Jerry could not keep track on Udanta initially as Dimas Delgado found him with a lofted pass before nobody could put pressure on Miku at the far post as he headed down Khabra's cross from Boithang Haokip inside the box. None of the defenders were aware of Haokip being free inside the box and he gave the Blues a dream start.
However, what followed was a response from Chennaiyin FC as the game turned entertaining with both teams trying to keep the ball and engineer openings. The passing from both teams was excellent while both teams pressed with purpose when they lost the ball. Dhanpal Ganesh and Anirudh Thapa pressed with urgency and often won the ball in dangerous areas. Raphael Augusto, in particular, was also heavily involved for the home team and they had their equaliser soon enough.
It stemmed from Chhetri losing possession and Augusto and Thapa combined to spray the ball wide. Jerry's cross from the left was sumptuous and it was met by Francisco Fernandes who had ghosted into the box late. Subhasish Bose and Juanan were focusing on Jeje and failed to pick him up at all.
A buoyed Chennaiyin FC took control of the tie post the half-time break and were often seen camping inside the Bengaluru FC half for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Bengaluru struggled to match their pressing and were holding on at times but another lax piece of defending from Chennaiyin gave them a window and Roca's team made the most of it.
Dimas Delgado, who was instrumental in midfield for Bengaluru, played an exquisite free-kick for Chhetri who was not picked up inside the box. His subsequent volley was spilt by Karanjit Singh and Miku bundled it home, much to the chagrin of the home faithful.
Then the red card for Sereno ruined Chennaiyin's game plan, with the Portuguese defender picking up his second yellow of the night for holding Miku back on a counter. Chennaiyin threw caution to the winds by playing with a 3-man defence with just 10 men and still had the legs to stretch Bengaluru.
One such move between Ganesh and Nelson saw them get a penalty, which was rather soft. But Jeje's kick was just too tame, making for an easy save for Gurpreet. Thereafter, Bengaluru retained the ball very well and hit Chennaiyin on the counter time and time again. At the very end of the game, an error from Jerry on a Bengaluru counter would give them the third goal.
Dimas put in an exemplary shift in midfield for Bengaluru, showing his importance to the side with intelligent passing and ball retention. Bengaluru had struggled in midfield in his absence against ATK in their previous game. But Albert Roca's team stepped their game up on Wednesday and picked off Chennaiyin FC intelligently and now find themselves on the cusp of qualifying for the playoffs.
Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, face a very important run of games in February as they seek to nail down a playoff spot. But they don't have much of a leeway for errors now.