Chennaiyin FC signed off in style as they finished their Indian Super League season with a thrilling 4-3 win over NorthEast United FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Friday.
Rahim Ali, Kwame Karikari, Anirudh Thapa and Sajal Bag were on the scoresheet as the Marina Machans clinched a third successive win for the first time this season and went level on points with FC Goa. Wilmar Gil bagged a brace and Parthi Gogoi scored another astonishing goal for the Highlanders but it was not enough to take something from the game.
Chennaiyin FC got off to a perfect start. Ali’s clever run was spotted by Julius Duker, who lifted the ball over the NorthEast United FC defence before the striker took a touch and slotted it past Arindam Bhattacharja after just three minutes.
Later in the half, Duker kickstarted another move from midfield that saw Edwin Vanspaul square the ball into the box for Anirudh Thapa from the right flank. The midfielder’s strike picked up a last-second flick off Karikari and almost caught Bhattacharja on the wrong foot. But, the shot-stopper reacted well and blocked the effort.
NorthEast United FC were only able to challenge Samik Mitra once in the first half when Jithin MS was found in space down the left flank. His shot after breaking intro the box was flashed across goal and flicked away to safety by Mitra’s outstretched arm. Gil found himself with the ball inside the box but couldn’t react quickly enough to get a shot away.
Six minutes into the second half, NorthEast United FC netted the equaliser. Gogoi played a simple pass forward to Gil, who used his physique to hold his marker back and slotted a low shot past Mitra. Minutes later, Gil got his head to Joseba Beitia’s corner and directed it towards the top left corner of goal before it was plucked out of the air by Mitra.
Parity lasted only five minutes as the hosts retook the lead via a scrappy goal that was finished off by Karikari. Bhattacharja did well to block the initial effort from Vanspaul but the parry went straight into the path of Karikari, who made no mistake at the near post.
Two minutes past the hour-mark, Chennaiyin FC established a two-goal cushion with. An inch-perfect diagonal was whipped out towards Thapa from the right flank by Meetel. The midfielder chested it down and powered it past Bhattacharja with aplomb as the Highlanders’ keeper was beaten at his near post again.
In the 74th minute, the deficit was cut back down to one goal when Gogoi tried his luck from range. The winger’s long-range piledriver flew past Mitra into the back of the net. Nine minutes from time, it was all square again. A defensive error in Chennaiyin FC’s defensive third allowed Gil to tap in a low cross from substitute Emil Benny.
In the closing stages of the game, Gil had another opportunity but was beaten to the ball by Mitra who came charging out. It turned out to be a crucial block as at the other end, in the final minute of stoppage time, El Khayati’s mazing run into the NorthEast United FC box was finished off by Sajal to complete the double over the Highlanders this season.