I-League: Plaza brace sinks Chennai City

Churchill Brothers rode on Willis Plaza's brace to secure a 3-2 win over Chennai City in a pulsating I-League fixture at the Tilak Maidan on Friday.

Action from Friday's I-League encounter between Churchill Brothers and Chennai City FC.   -  I-League

Chennai City FC’s title hopes have been put on hold. Requiring a victory to bag its maiden I-League crown, Chennai City was undone by Willis Plaza's brace as Churchill Brothers secured a 3-2 win at the Tilak Maidan Stadium here on Friday. 

Chennai City FC remains on top of the table despite the loss and will have another chance to seal the I-League title when it hosts Minerva Punjab in its final game of the season. The victory takes Churchill Brothers to the third spot with 34 points from 19 games, while Chennai City remains on top with 40 points with the same number of games.

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Churchill was a cut above Chennai City on a day when the two-time champion came up with an attractive and attacking game, while the visiting side struggled to replicate its usual counter-attacking style  of football.

Chennai City took the lead in the 29th minute when Sandro Rodriguez's freekick took a wicked deflection and sailed into the back of the net. However, the lead lasted all of nine minutes as Plaza bagged the equaliser in the 38th minute.

Nicholas Fernandes played a fine cross from the left and Plaza found himself in the right place at the right time to draw level.

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The goal spurred on the home side and it went on to dominate the last few minutes of the opening half with repeated forays into the opposition box. Fernandes had a fine chance but his attempt looped off the crossbar.

The home side maintained its attacking play in the second half and Plaza had an open goal but failed to find the target. Churchill went ahead within five minutes of the restart as Christ Lorougnon converted Wayne Vaz's pass to make it 2-1.

Chennai City threw men forward in search of the equaliser and was rewarded for its perseverance when the side was awarded a penalty in the 68th minute. Pedro Manzi sent the 'keeper the wrong way to restore parity and bring his side back into the tie.

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However, the home side seized the momentum once again as Plaza scored three minutes later. He received a wonderful pass from Khalid Aucho at the edge of the box and found the back of the net with a beautiful curling attempt. The strike marked Plaza's 20th goal of the season and put him on level terms with Manzi in the race for the Golden Boot.

Not content with a one goal lead, Churchill continued to attack and had multiple chances to extend its lead, the best of them coming to substitute Israil Gurung, who failed to trouble the goalkeeper.

At the post-match press conference, Chennai City coach head coach Akbar Nawas cited the bouncy pitch as one of the major reasons for the team’s defeat. “There was no pressure on our team. The pitch was difficult to play, it was bouncy. Unless they water the field [it will remain so],” he said. “It is not good for competitive football. But full credit to Churchill. They were the better team."

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Churchill's coach Petre Gigiu still felt Chennai City will bag the title. "In my opinion, I am sure Chennai City will become the champion," he said.

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