ISL 2017: Chennaiyin turns fortunes around, thumps NorthEast United 3-0

Home side Chennaiyin FC put up a brilliant display to thump three goals past NorthEast United and register its first win of its Indian Super League campaign on Thursday.

Chennaiyin FC's Mohammed Rafi celebrates after scoring his side's third goal against North East United on Thursday.   -  R. Ragu

Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory was a man on a mission, with intent and purpose. After taking the responsibility for Chennaiyin FC's debacle against FC Goa, he rejuvenated the side with profound confidence, combined with an immaculate gameplay, as his men marched to a 3-0 win over NorthEast United FC in a pulsating Indian Super League (ISL) clash at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday.

Gregory knew what had gone wrong and what he had to set right. The confidence was evident on the eve of the match when he almost vowed to rewrite history. Chennaiyin FC had never won at home against NorthEast United and Gregory's army came out all guns blazing to thump the 'Highlanders'.

MATCH CENTRE

The home side went into the lead via an own goal by NorthEast United's Abdul Hakku in 11th minute, while Brazilian Raphael Augusto doubled the lead in the 24th minute. Substitute Mohammed Rafi made it 3-0 in 84th minute as Chennaiyin got back to winning ways at home.

The change in fortunes started in the changing room and the team sheet. Local boy Dhanpal Ganesh, Bikramjit Singh and Gregory Nelson were included in the starting XI in the place of Thoi Singh, Dhanachandra Singh and Rene Mihelic.

Chennaiyin started on an aggressive note and the intent was clear - score as many goals as possible. A faux pass by goalkeeper Karanjit Singh almost sent the side on the backfoot in the fourth minute but NorthEast's Seiminlen Doungel's lofted shot missed the target agonisingly by inches. Karanjit tried to make a horrid clearance on the right and Doungel pounced on the ball in a jiffy. Seeing an open goal, the striker lobbed it over Karanjit but the ball rattled the crossbar, and the Chennai bench and the crowd heaved a sigh of relief.

Minutes later Chennaiyin came close to scoring when Nelson dodged a defender on the left flank and sent a neat cross towards the goal mouth. With NorthEast United's custodian T.P. Rehenesh at the near post, it was a golden opportunity for Francisco Fernandes at the far post but the midfielder couldn't get his header right and the ball bounced over the crossbar.

It was Hakku, who broke the deadlock in the 11th minute. Augusto took the ball on the left flank and charged towards the box and unleashed a drive from the edge of the box. Hakku tried to clear the effort but was in no position and his tame header beat Rehenesh with ease, leading to the Marina Arena erupting in joy.

The host pressed for goals and built pressure through the flanks as the Highlanders ran out of ideas to stop the constant charge. Nelson could have doubled the lead in the 15th minute but an alert Rehenesh made sure there was no damage.

Chennaiyin doubled the lead minutes before the half-hour mark when Augusto latched onto a pass from Nelson and sent a powerful right-footer, as  an acrobatic Rehenesh could only watch the ball thud into the net in a flash. The goal originated when Bikramjit, on the left flank, sent a diagonal pass to Nelson who cut a defender to size and sent the ball towards the goal. Augusto, who was running in from the midfield, pounced on the opportunity and made no mess of it.

Staring at a two-goal deficit, NorthEast United tried to up the ante and Danilo Lopez tried to reduce the arrears with a long-range shot and Doungel tried to breach the Chennaiyin citadel with some good footwork, but a compact and agile Chennaiyin defence made sure the host went into the break without conceding any goal.

Visitor's charge

NorthEast came all guns blazing after the break and could have scored almost immediately through a free kick. Lalrindika Ralte  was fouled by Sereno Henrique and the resulting freekick by Marcio de Souza lacked precision and went above the crossbar.

By the hour mark, Chennaiyin could have gone three-up against the run of play when Jeje Lalpekhlua crossed the ball to Augusto from the left flank. Augusto took a chance but his header was wide off target.

Chennaiyin won a free kick just outside the box on the right in the 72nd minute but the young Jerry Lalrinzuala couldn't cash on the chance. His shot was blocked by the defensive wall and the resulting corner too had no change on the scoreline.

It was just a matter of time for Chennaiyin to score the third and the substitutions came to the party. Jaime Gavilan set a curling free kick that rattled the upright and fell at the goal mouth and with Rehenesh grounded, Rafi nodded the ball into the net and put the result to bed.

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