Chennai City FC registered a stunning 2-1 win over table-toppers Minerva Punjab to throw the I-League title race wide open in Coimbatore on Friday.
Chennai skipper Soosairaj opened the scoring in the fifth minute before Minerva striker Chencho Gyeltshen restored parity in the 26th minute. Chennai City FC’s new recruit Aleksander Rakic beat the offside trap on the hour-mark to get the lead once again which eventually turned to be the match-winner at the JLN Stadium here.
Minerva Punjab FC are still leading the race with 32 points from 17 matches but East Bengal (29 from 16 matches) and NEROCA FC (31 from 17 matches) are still very much in the title hunt. Mohun Bagan (27 from 16 matches) also are in the mix for the title race though their chances are remote.
If East Bengal win both their final two matches, the I-League title could be theirs for the first time. In any case, in this I-League season also, the winner is likely to be decided on the final day on March 8 when all the title contenders play their last match.
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 home skipper inside the Minerva 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 call 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.
The equaliser 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 Serbian 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. Soosairaj’s through-ball found Rakic inside the box and the Serbian forward made amends of his earlier miss by slotting the ball home.
A desperate Minerva piled up the pressure in the dying stages of the match but were 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 leapfrogged Churchill Brothers FC Goa with 19 points from 18 matches.