Chennai City managed to pull off the upset of the season as they beat title contenders Minerva Punjab 2-1 in a closely contested game in Coimbatore on Friday.
Michael Soosairaj (5') helped Chennai draw first blood in the game, which was cancelled out by Chencho Gyeltshen (26'). Aleksandar Rakic (60') found the net after Soosairaj set him up with a brilliant ball from midfield.
Chennai City made three changes to the team that was humiliated 7-1 by East Bengal. Surprisingly, even after conceding seven goals goalkeeper Kabir Taufiq retained his place under the sticks, whereas Vigneshwaran Baskaran continued to warm the bench. Pradeep Mohanraj and Sebastian Thangmuansang were the two changes in defence. Gourav Bora along with Edwin Vanspaul formed the two midfield pivots whereas Aleksandar Rakic continued to be the targetman. The midfield trio of Beautin Antony, Alexander Jesuraj and Pandiyan Sinivasan were relegated to the bench.
On the other hand, Khogen Singh was forced to make a change as Bali Gagandeep failed to recover from his injury sustained in their previous 2-0 win against Aizawl. Souvik Das got a rare start in midfield to join skipper Kassim Aidara at the centre of the park. Kiran Limbu continued in goal and was protected by a back four of Sukhdev Singh, Eric Dano, Kamalpreet Singh and Akash Sangwan. Chencho Gyeltshen and William Opoku shared the goal scoring responsibilities up front.
Although Minerva Punjab started the game with more intensity and purpose, but it was Chennai's Soosairaj who found the opening goal of the match with just five minutes on the clock. An inch-perfect Vanspaul cross from the right flank fell to the feet of Soosairaj. The skipper triggered a shot but Kiran stuck out a hand to stop it from going in. Unfortunately, the rebound fell for Soosairaj who did not fail to score from a simple tap-in.
After conceding early, Minerva doubled their attacking prowess in their search for equalizer. Hereon, it was individual brilliance from Chencho as the Bhutanese dribbled past defenders with ease. But the final delivery was missing and Minerva's regular attacking forays was being hated by the Chennaidefence who had parked themselves deep inside their own half.
On the 26th minute, Minerva found their equalizer and it was Chencho who delivered the goods. It was a long ball from Amandeep Singh which was latched onto by Chencho inside the box and the Bhutan national team skipper did not think twice before shooting it past Kabir.
Akashdeep Singh could have doubled the lead right after the half-hour mark, but a spectacular save from Kabir smothered the attempt from outside the box to keep Chennai in the game. Minutes later, Pradeep and Soosairaj got involved in a brilliant give-and-go which left Minerva's defence wrong-footed. But, Pradeep's final shot was straight to keeper Limbu who did not have to move a muscle to collect it.
Ravanan and Pradeep had a difficult opening 45 minutes as Chencho was continuously running behind them with pace and trickery. Just before the half-time whistle, Chencho attempted an audacious bicycle kick but his effort sailed over the bar. But it was Chennai who could have gone into the break with a lead as Soosairaj's curling free-kick looked destined to bulge the nets before Limbu came up with an equally brilliant save.
Chennai started the second half with more intent and poise but were failing to make inroads in the attacking third.
The game was screaming for a goal to open things up and it was just ar the hour mark that Aleksandar Rakic put the Men in Green forward. It was Soosairaj once again, who threaded a brilliant through-ball between two defenders for Rakic. The centre forward kept his calm in an one-on-one situation with Limbu and slotted it into the net to put Chennai forward once again in the match.
Minerva could have found their equalizer within two minutes from conceding if only Akash Sangwan could have kept his shot on target. It was another defence splitting ball and with only the goalkeeper to beat, he sent his shot wide of the target.
Even after going into the lead, Chennai CIty did not fall back to only defend but made use of their possession to go for the kill. The Soosairaj-Rakic partnership continued to keep Minerva's defence on their toes and it took a perfectly timed slide from Kamalpreet to stop Soosairaj's shot from testing Limbu.
Chennai decide to stack up their numbers at the back for the last 10 minutes of the match in their bid to defend the slender one-goal lead as Minerva looked desperate to take home at least a point. But the scoreline could have been much worse for the Ranjit Bajaj-owned side as Rakic failed to score from two gilt-edged opportunities in injury time.
Minerva Punjab would next host Churchill Brothers at home on the final match day whereas Chennai City would hope that their win at home would be enough to continue participating in India's top division next season.