The fairytale continued for Chennaiyin FC as the two-time winners marched to the playoffs of the 2019-’20 Indian Super League season after registering a gritty victory against Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena on Friday.
A win for either sides would have confirmed their place in the playoffs and even despite some neat defending from both sides, the night ended on a bitter note for the Islanders as former player-cum-captain Lucian Goian came back to haunt them with a late winner, dashing their hopes of making to the top four for a second year running.
Mumbai made two changes to the starting eleven with Sourav Das and Amine Chermiti replacing Bidyananda Singh and Bipin Singh while the visitors fielded the same line-up.
The opening half began at a frantic pace but turned to be a scrappy affair as both teams played very cautiously and failed to keep hold of the ball for long periods.
However, Mumbai City were the side who looked more in control, playing diligently during counter-attacks and also while defending in numbers.
Mumbai had the first big chance of the game in the 24th minute when Diego Carlos cut inside from the right before whipping a cross for Amine Chermiti. The Tunisian striker leapt high and got to the end of it only to see his header fly over the bar.
The hosts received an injury scare just before the half-hour mark when Amrinder Singh received a cut to the face as Jerry Lalrinzuala’s knee hit him when the goalkeeper dived full stretch to collect a through ball from Anirudh Thapa.
Few chances fell to the both teams as they tried to keep the ball out of play. Chennaiyin FC hitman Nerijus Valskis had the chance to break the deadlock just before half-time when he received Edwin Vanspaul’s cross in the six-yard box but he was flagged offside by the referee.
The second-half began in contrasting fashion as both sides showed urgency. Mumbai had a chance before the hour-mark when Rowllin Borges put Chermiti through on goal before he was brought down by Chennaiyin FC goalkeeper Kaith, who received a booking.
Minutes later, another gilt-edged opportunity fell for the hosts when Carlos fired a fine ball from the corner towards the edge of the box for Chermiti, who deftly placed his header across the face of goal. Valskis, however, made a vital clearance before any Mumbai player could pounce on it.
A glorious chance fell to Chennaiyin FC at the other end when a mistimed clearance from Mohammad Rafique gifted Lallianzuala Chhangte the ball. The winger made a brilliant run from the half-line with only Amrinder to beat but he was tripped by Sourav Das just outside the box, who received his marching orders after receiving a red card.
The Islanders had the best chance of the game during the 67th minute when Carlos launched an accurate long ball for Chermiti in the box. The striker displayed a sublime first-touch to keep hold of the ball before poking a shot with his weaker left foot that rolled inches wide of the farpost.
However, despite a spell of dogged defending from both sides, Chennaiyin FC found a hero in Lucian Goian who broke the deadlock with the late goal. The Chennaiyin FC skipper was unmarked from a set-piece and cut inside before scoring from close range, beating Amrinder with ease.
The script couldn’t have had a better ending for the Romanian defender, a man who once called Mumbai his home.