Chennaiyin FC secured only their second win of the season after defeating Kerala Blasters FC 3-1 in an engrossing 2019-’20 Indian Super League clash at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai, on Saturday.
Chennaiyin got an early lead through Andre Schembri (4’) before Bartholomew Ogbeche equalised for Kerala Blasters with a brilliant strike (14’). However, Lallianzuala Chhangte (30’) restored the lead in dramatic circumstances before Nerijus Valskis (40’) sealed a first win for new Chennaiyin manager Owen Coyle. All goals were scored in the first half.
The result sees Chennaiyin leapfrog Kerala Blasters into the eighth position while the visitors stretched their winless run to eight matches.
The hosts started the game with purpose and stormed into the lead within four minutes. Kerala defenders were caught ball-watching as Rafael Crivellaro waltzed his way through them way too easily and squared the ball for Schembri to tap in.
The early goal injected a bit of confidence into the home side’s game, but they could not hold on to the lead for long. Kerala equalised in the 14th minute through Ogbeche. An intelligent free-kick routine saw Mario Arques lay the ball off for Ogbeche, who finished with an excellent shot that flew past a hapless Vishal Kaith.
The game took a turn for the dramatic around the 25th minute when Chennaiyin caught the Kerala defence off-guard with a quick freekick. Schembri was sent clear on goal and the Maltese striker squared it for Nerijus Valskis to turn it in. However, the goal sparked huge protests from the Kerala players and officials, with the referee eventually disallowing the goal after consultation with the linesmen.
However, Chennaiyin FC wasted no time and regained the lead immediately after the match restarted. Rafael found some space in the middle and chipped a pass for Valskis. The Lithuanian laid it off first-time for Chhangte who took it in his stride and slid it in past TP Rehenesh in the Kerala goal.
The disheartened visitors disintegrated and ended up conceding yet another goal. Chhangte got on the end of a long ball from Anirudh Thapa and attempted a lob from distance after seeing Rehenesh rush off his line. However, the ball bounced back off the post and fell for Valskis who tucked it in to send the home crowd into raptures.
Kerala were dealt another blow at half-time when Ogbeche had to be taken off injured, with Moustapha Gning replacing him. The visitors displayed some urgency at the start of the second-half but defensive mistakes continued to plague them. Chhangte robbed Vlatko Drobarov near the touchline in the 51st minute before picking out Schembri who could not get the ball to a free Valskis.
The visitors continued to see more of the ball in their search for a way into the match. Kerala also sent in Sahal Abdul Samad as they mounted the pressure on the Chennaiyin goal. The substitute did have a chance to get a goal back when a loose ball from a corner fell for him on the edge of the box. But his first-time effort flew wide in the 73rd minute.
Even the late sending off of defender Eli Sabia, for obstructing play, did not dampen the spirits of Chennaiyin FC as they notched a vital win.