Chennai City FC extended their lead at the top of the 12th Hero I-League standings, getting their fourth win away at Aizawl’s Rajiv Gandhi stadium, as Sandro Rodriguez’s two second half strikes ensured that Liberian striker Ansumanah Kromah’s 72nd minute goal for hosts Aizawl FC, was not enough to prevent a second consecutive loss.
The southerns now have 13 points from five games, seven points clear of second placed Quess East Bengal and third placed Churchill Brothers. Aizawl, who won the Hero I-League two seasons ago, find themselves at the bottom of the table with three losses and two draws from their five games so far.
The home coach Gift Raikhan, made whole sale changes to the hometeam’s starting XI on the day, beginning with the goalkeeper where Lalawmpuia came in place of Gurpreet. Paul Ramfangzuava, Albert and Lalrinfella also got starts in place of Bekhtur, Mapuia and Kareem Nurain.
Akbar Nawas, Chennai’s Singaporean coach, was forced to start without his highest goal scorer Pedro Manzi, who was out injured and replaced him with Ameerudeen who has also been on the scoresheet in this year’s league. Pravitto Raju also did not start and Mashoor Shereef came in, in his place.
The hosts began confidently enough and pressed high from get go. In fact, they even created two chances in the first quarter of an hour, but Leonce Dodoz, guilty of many misses on the day, muffed both of them.
Finally Nestor and Sandro, the two Spanish midfielders of Chennai who have impressed one and all with their vision, skill and control so far, combined in the 18thminute and the latter should have done better with the chance he got to shoot at goal, with just the goalkeeper to beat.
In the 20th minute, Chennai’s dependable Spanish defender Roberto Eslava was booked for a tug on Dodoz and Rinfella’s resultant free-kick cluttered the bar after beating Kabir to deny Aizawl the lead.
There was then a second booking in the 24th minute, Valpuia had handled ball inside the box but the referee deemed it to be not intentional with the defender on ground. The Chennai players did not take kindly to the decision and protested resulting in Ajith Kamaraj going into referee Tanmoy Dhar’s books for dissent.
After a goalless first half, Aizawl began on the front foot for a second time and Kromah’s head from close in the 48th minute, saw a reflex save from Kabir, who also had a brilliant game to be awarded the Hero of the Match.
In the very next minute, Duata gave away a needless foul in a dangerous position outside the Aizawl box. He was made to pay as Sandro struck his second brilliant free-kick of the league to beat Lawmpuia all ends and put Chennai in the lead.
Aizawl tried to get back into the game immediately, when Dodoz got at the end of a blunder of a back-pass by the Chennai defense, but he could not beat Kabir from eight yards out.
Gift Raikhan meanwhile kept ringing in the changes in search of an equaliser. He had got in Mapuia in place of Lalrinfela and Rinchena in place of Govin Singh. But it was his third sub Isak who played a role in the goal that finally came Aizawl’s way.
In the 72nd minute, Isak put in a wonderful cross from the right flank, which beat the Chennai defense to land at Dodoz’s feet. The Beninese fumbled and the ball after hitting Kabir fell to Kromah on the rebound, who tapped in for the easiest of goals.
But there is a reason why Chennai are sitting pretty at the top of the table and their Spanish recruit was to deliver again when it mattered most. In the 77thminute, Romario Jesuraj made one of his runs down the right flank and cut inside the box to cross across the face of goal. Sandro on the far left, came up with a classy first time connection, this time with his left foot, to send the ball crashing into the back of the net.
Chennai now go back home to Coimbatore after winning all their three games on the road while Aizawl need to find a way to be less expansive in front of goal, whether home or away.