Chennai City and NEROCA FC played out a goalless stalemate at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore tonight.
Soundararajan opted to leave Chennai City’s leading goalscorer Jean-Micheal Joachim out of the starting lineup. Pradeep Mohanraj took the striker’s place in the starting lineup.
Gift Raikhan made two changes to his side that defeated Indian Arrows on Friday. Israilov Akhlidin was replaced by Nedo Turkovic and an in-form Singam Subham Singh missed out on a spot on the matchday squad as Ningthoujam Pritam Singh was brought in as the replacement.
It was an even start to the game as both sides fought for the ball in midfield and failed to breach the backline at either end of the pitch.
With clear-cut chances hard to come by, Chennai City depended on their ever-present playmaker Soosairaj to unlock the NEROCA defence. A free-kick in the eighth minute, won and taken by him, hit NEROCA’s wall before the rebound was picked up by Edwin Vanspaul who struck a dipping shot just over the bar.
NEROCA failed to get into their rhythm during the first-half with the home side asking all the questions. Soosairaj continued to influence the proceedings as his throw-in at the half-hour mark caused havoc inside the box.
The Chennai skipper’s looped long throw-in was headed at the goal by Charles Anandraj and Lalit Thapa failed to collect the ball cleanly. The rebound was picked up Murilo Almeida inside the box but he failed to get his shot away in time, allowing the desperate NEROCA defence to clear the ball away from danger.
Chennai City grew into the game as the first half moved to a close. At the stroke of half-Pradeep Mohanraj ran forward on the left flank and crossed deliciously for Murilo in the centre. The Timor-Leste national attempted a bicycle kick to test Thapa but failed to connect properly, allowing the goalie to heave a sigh of relief.
The home side continued from where they left off as the second half kicked off, with Soosairaj and Charles Anandraj bossing the midfield. Soon after the restart, the latter nicked the ball off Jean Fabien before striking a strong shot which was saved by Lalit Thapa.
Gift Raikhan looked to change the dynamics of his side as he brought on David Lalbiakzara in place of Yumnam Singh in the 54th minute. But the change failed to change the flow of the game as Chennai City continued to dominate the field.
Aryn Williams’ solo foray forward at the hour-mark had Uros Poljanec worried but a loose touch by the midfielder resulted in the ball getting away from him and running out of play.
Charles Anandraj’s cross towards the far post with ten minutes left in the match was challenged by Murilo and Jesuraj and the former headed over from close range in what would be the final major opening before the referee blew his whistle for full-time.
The draw helps NEROCA extend their impressive unbeaten run in Hero I-league to seven games. They will now travel to Goa to challenge Indian Arrows on January 16 whereas Chennai City FC will travel to Aizawl for a January 13 encounter.