Chennaiyin FC ensured they would finish second on the Indian Super League (ISL) table after a 1-0 win over Mumbai City FC at the Marina Arena in Chennai on Saturday. In what was a largely drab affair, Rene Mihelic's penalty (67') turned out to be the difference between the sides.
Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory made wholesale changes to his side, having secured qualification to the playoffs already. As many as eight new faces came into the side with Fulganco Cardozo and goalkeeper Pawan Kumar making their debut for the club. Mohammed Rafi started in attack while Rene Mihelic and Jaime Gavilan were deployed behind him along side Nigerian forward Jude Nworuh.
Mumbai City opted to play a four-man defence with Raju Gaikwad and Mehrajuddin Wadoo playing as the full-backs. Leo Costa started behind Balwant Singh with Zakeer Mundampara in midfield alongside Gerson.
The start to the game was frantic with both sides trying to attack. However, it was the home team who looked a bit more composed on the ball as Jaime Gavilan and Rene Mihelic pressed with purpose.
However, the first shot on target came from the visitors when Zakeer let rip a long-ranger which had to be parried away by a diving Pawan Kumar.
Chennaiyin FC almost went ahead in the 17th minute when Arindam’s punch out from Gavilan’s delivery fell to Mihelic on the edge of the area but his half-volley flew agonisingly wide. Mihelic then went on to draw a save from Arindam from a free-kick.
Leo Costa, who went into the referee’s book for appearing to strike Mihelic, then saw a shot fly just wide after Thoi Singh’s poor header from Wadoo’s cross sat for him perfectly on the edge of the area.
The game descended into a midfield slugfest soon but there was some action in the 37th minute when Rozario was caught on the ball by Gavilan who surged into the box. But he was tripped by a back-tracking Goian but the referee did not heed the calls for a penalty. However, the loose ball was given straight to Jude Nworuh inside the box by Gaikwad but the Nigerian’s shot was deflected on to the post by a sprawling Arindam.
Mumbai saw more of the ball towards the end of the half but an opening goal eluded either team in the first half.
Neither team made any changes going into the second half and the drab fare continued as it is as no real chance of note was created.
Rene Mihelic produced one genuine moment of quality when he picked out the run of Nworuh with a fantastic long ball but the Nigerian could not bring it under control.
With the proceedings going on at a pedestrian pace, Mumbai City brought on Davinder Singh and Achille Emana for the distinctly average Morcio Rozario and Zakeer. Chennaiyin FC sent on Anirudh Thapa for Bikramjit Singh.
In the 65th minute, a defensive blunder from Wadoo gifted Chennaiyin FC the lead. The defender slammed a clearance against a teammate and was forced to bring down Gavilan, who latched on to the ricochet, inside the box from behind.
The referee awarded a penalty and Rene Mihelic made no mistake from the spot despite Arindam getting a hand to his well-placed spotkick.
Mumbai City were forced to make their final change of the match when Mehrajuddin Wadoo went down injured and was replaced by Sehnaj Singh.
Emana almost forced an equaliser in the 78th minute after he picked up a loose ball outside the area and powered into the box past three Chennaiyin defenders. But before he could get a shot away, Pawan Kumar got a touch on the ball to push it away for a corner.
There was a bit of drama at the end when Emana nodded down a long ball inside Chennaiyin's half for Everton Santos who squared a pass to Balwant to smash it in. However, the linesman ruled Everton to be offside and chalked out the goal.
Chennaiyin, thereafter, held on to claim all three points with ease as Mumbai City finished their ISL season in seventh spot with 23 points.