Chennaiyin FC surged to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) table with a hard-fought 1-0 win over FC Pune City on Saturday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here. Dutchman Gregory Nelson was the lone scorer of the night as his 83rd-minute goal handed Chennaiyin its first win at home in three games.
The result leaves Pune languishing in the third spot with FC Goa on the fourth position on goal difference, with a game in hand.
The match was action-packed from the referee’s first whistle. Chennaiyin’s star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua had half a chance in the very first minute of the tie when he was released into the deep, but Pune’s Adil Khan kept his attempt in check with a diving tackle, parrying the ball away for Chenaiyin’s first corner. CFC earned another corner in the fourth minute when Adil played a poor back pass, but the home side failed to convert both.
Pune, which boasts one of the best attacks in the league, was at its menacing best over the next few minutes.
Its first real chance of the evening came in the eighth minute, when Pune’s charismatic captain, Emiliano Alfaro played a slick through ball to Diego Carlos, who was met by a rushing Karanjit Singh. The deflection found Ashique Kuruniyan, whose tame attempt was cleared by Mailson Alves.
Alfaro was at it again in the 10th minute when he played a delicious long ball to Ashique, who simply had to place the ball into the net but the youngster, somehow, missed the goal by a whisker.
Pune went agonisingly close to scoring the first goal in the twelfth minute. Carlos received the ball on the left, took a couple of deft touches and unleashed a curling right-footer that looked certain to bust the net but it went on to rattle the crossbar. This remained the visiting side’s best chance of the night.
Chennaiyin squandered a great chance to draw first blood when Adil enacted a strong shoulder tackle on Gregory Nelson in the Pune D in the 24th minute. While it seemed like a regulation tackle, the referee, however, blew the whistle to signal for a spot-kick in what looked like a rather harsh decision. Dead-ball specialist Rene Mihelic stepped up to take the penalty but Kaith had the last laugh as he thwarted Mihelic’s tame attempt with a strong right-handed save.
The last five minutes of the first half saw a flurry of attacks from the Pune side. A couple of rash tackles from the home side saw Pune receive two free-kicks from a little beyond the penalty box, but Jonathan Lucca failed to find the target on both occasions. The first half ended goalless, with Pune amassing 55 per cent of total possession.
Substitute Augusto makes impact
The second half was littered with a few chances and failed to live up to the action of the first 45 minutes. Debutant Sahil Panwar tried to get Pune on the scoresheet with a fine long-range effort that whizzed just past the goal.
The turning point, however, was the arrival of crowd favorite Raphael Augusto in the 66th minute. The Brazilian injected some much-needed pace into the Chennaiyin attack and the side started to look a lot more threatening. Cheered on by a boisterous home crowd, Augusto made his presence felt with his quirky tricks and timely passes.
His best pass of the night, however, came in the 83rd minute when he played a delightful through ball to Nelson, who received the ball on his right leg, cut past Gurtej Singh and coolly slotted it past Kaith to score his first goal of the campaign, and with that, earn Chennaiyin a significant victory.
Pune’s jinx remains and with today’s result, the side has failed to scour a win over Chennaiyin in all of their clashes over the four ISL seasons.