In the beginning, Chennaiyin FC stuttered. In the middle, they picked up pace. And, towards the end, they broke through – the skipper Henrique Sereno leaping at the right moment to head the winner off a brilliant corner from Jaime Gavilan. For the seventh straight time, they’d come out unbeaten against FC Pune City.
This wasn’t the most gripping of football matches. But if there was a desperation for Pune, the home team, to break the Chennai jinx, it wasn’t evident on the pitch.
Pune’s coach Ranko Popovich, understandably, was miffed with the team’s apparent lack of intent, especially in the second half. “We wanted to (play with more intent) but we didn’t have the power,” he said after the team’s second defeat of the season. “I brought the guys to put more energy and power in the second half, they must put more pressure but this is what I’m angry about.”
Failing to capitalise
Energy and power. The home side seemed to have these in the first half, especially in the first few minutes of the game. But finishing was a problem. Isaac Vanmalsawma, two minutes into the game, crossed one into the box, trying to set the ball up for Emiliano Alfaro. But the striker’s early surge resulted in an off-side.
Six minutes later, Marcus Tebar, lobbed the ball into the box from about thirty yards away. The two Goan forwards inside weren’t ready for it. Chennaiyin’s defender had no trouble heading it away from trouble.
Pune were in control of the ball, made good passes but the finishing wasn’t upto the mark.
This wasn’t an issue plaguing only the home team. In the 12th minute, Bikramjit Singh sent the ball close to the goalmouth. Dhanpal Ganesh, receiving it, could only manage to shoot it to the side netting.
The goalless first-half would have irritated Pune more, for, they had better possession of the ball.
Pune, however, would have also been relieved of not granting goals that would have left them red-faced. In the 15th minute, Inigo Calderon, launched a throw well into the Pune box. The two defenders, trying to head it away from danger, converged and sent the ball towards goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who almost crossed the goal-line.
Few minutes later, the goalie ran from his line to clear a long ball that came his way. But he misjudged the bounce of the ball – it went past him, rolling slowly towards the Pune net. He rushed back to retrieve the ball to prevent it from making a fool out of him.
Vishal’s counterpart, Karanjit Singh, also had a nervous moment when a Marcelo Pereira free-kick, in the 23rd minute, bounced and went over him. He arched back to palm the ball that was seconds away from breaking the deadlock.
Lopez’s desperate dive
Vishal had another slip-up in the 63rd minute when he, running backwards and towards the right corner, failed to catch a shot launched by Jerry Lalrinzuala near the left corner. The ball landed in front of Francisco Fernandes, who, despite lack of time, shot towards the goal and would have scored if not for defender Rafael Lopez’s desperate dive that cleared the ball.
The 19-year-old Jerry, throughout the match, kept Pune’s threats away and was rightly awarded the hero-of-the-match. But Lopez’s clearance was the game’s best act of defence.
“First half was clear domination, second half we didn’t have clear cut chances, it’s easy to say now but the guys have 2-3 days to recover, we will see then,” the Pune coach said after the game. He’d want his team not to drop the intensity when they take on Jamshedpur FC, which, with three draws in three games, is thirsting for a win.
The second-placed Chennaiyin FC, meanwhile, head back to the Marina Arena, aiming to top the table when they face defending champions ATK.