Chennai City FC’s emphatic 3-1 win over Churchill Brothers spiced up the relegation battle in the 2017-18 I-League as the southerners leapfrogged the Red Machines to come out of the drop zone in Coimbatore on Saturday.

Aleksandar Rakic opened the scoring in the 26th minute before Michael Soosairaj scored a brace with both the goals coming off goalkeeping gaffes. Monday Osagie scored a consolation goal in the third minute of injury time.

The hosts made two alterations from their last game. Antony Beautin and Alexander Romario Jesuraj arrived in place of Asif Kottayil and Jean-Michael Joachim. Alfred Fernandes had three of his own after their long return trip from Neroca.

Uttam Rai, Israil Gurung and Mechac Koffi made a comeback. Harshad Naik, Bektur Talgat and Wayne Vaz were taken out from the playing eleven. Churchill Brothers made quite an impression in the opening few minutes as the deadly pair of wingers, Nicholas Fernandes to the left and Uttam Rai to the right, fed a few chances to the strikers.

However, the hosts came back strong. Led by skipper Michael Soosairaj, Chennai tested the resolve of the Churchill defenders and the deadlock was finally broken in the 26th minute.

Serbian forward Rakic’s deadly strike went over the defenders in the box and lodged into the top corner of the net thanks to a quick angled pass from Jesuraj. Only three minutes later, James Kithan’s goalkeeping howler helped the hosts double their lead.

Soosairaj hardly thought his shot from 30 yards would yield something but the Nagaland-born keeper fumbled twice and the ball too, took a sharp spin landing on a dry patch as the Red Machines conceded an unlucky goal.

With two goals down in the first half hour, it was time for Alfred Fernandes to ring in the changes. Kalu Ogba and then Mechac Koffi were sacrificed for Bektur Talgat and Suraj Singh as Churchill went ultra-defensive in the remaining time of the first half.

There was no respite in the second period as well. Soosairaj brought up his brace nine minutes after the restart. Jesuraj’s grounded shot was parried off by an outstretched Kithan but the loose ball was only picked up by the playmaker as he nudged the ball into the net.

That prompted Fernandes to remove Kithan at once and his mid-game replacement Ricardo Cardozo too, was not doing well with his questionable positioning between the sticks.

However, some wayward shots from Rakic and second-half substitute Jean-Michael Joachim did not ruffle his feathers as Chennai could not add to their three goals.

Churchill could not claw back into the game but bagged a consolation goal from a set-piece. Dawda Ceesay’s flag kick forced a goalmouth melee but defender Monday Osagie snatched the ball from Kim Dong-Hyeon and hit it past a hapless Kabir Thaufiq.

With a superior head-to-head record, Chennai City edged past Gokulam Kerala and Churchill Brothers to the seventh spot on the points table with all three sides tied at 16 points. The Red Machines were pushed to the relegation spot but have a game in hand over Chennai City.

(With inputs from PTI)