The ghost of the previous season’s past seemed to haunt Chennaiyin FC yet again when Njazi Kuqi scored ATK’s goal to level the scores at 2-2. But a touch of fortune and a never say die attitude from the home side helped it clinch all three points to go on top of the Indian Super League table here at the Marina Arena on Thursday.
John Gregory, whose side bounced back from a first game defeat to win back to back matches, wasn’t too worried about his striker Jeje Lalpekhlua’s barren run in front of goal in the lead up to this fixture. He felt that the Indian international's work-rate during the drought was immense as he never afforded a moment’s breath to the opposition defender. His instinct of being in the right place at the right time helped Chennaiyin steal a win on the night.
After a turgid first half, where both teams failed to conjure moments of quality, the second half was sparked into life with attacking substitutions from both sides.
The much awaited debut of star striker Robbie Keane for ATK came in the 60th minute. The 38-year-old showcased moments of magic from which his side seemed to scoured a much needed point away from home.
But the winner came in the resulting seconds that followed ATK's celebrations, when the 35-year-old Inigo Calderon made a darting run onto the opposition box to square the ball into the six-yard box. Debjit Majumder, who was drafted in between the posts for the game, could only palm the ball onto the feet of Jeje Lalpekhlua, who slotted the ball in and wheeled away with the three points for his team.
ATK coach Teddy Sheringham made three changes to the side which drew 0-0 away to Jamshedpur, while Chennaiyin brought Jaime Gavilan in place of Raphael Augusto.
The introduction of Anirudh Thapa – who made surging runs from the middle – forced the initiative for CFC early in the second half.
Twenty minutes into the half, the opening goal came after one of Thapa’s surging runs which pegged ATK on to the back-foot. Gavilian was afforded space to play a short corner from which he measured a cross right into the six-yard box for skipper Henrique Sereno’s head to meet. His header hit the post and fell kindly for the unmarked Jeje to stab in.
In the last quarter of the game, Chennaiyin seemed to undo its hard work when its defence failed to clear the ball inside the box, which found Zequinha, who placed the ball to the left of Karanjit Singh in the 77th minute.
Kuqi had a fine chance to deliver the sucker punch in the 80th minute when he was played through on goal by Keane but his shot was straight at Karanjit, who had done well to come off the post and cover the angles.
The miss proved to be costly as in the 84th minute, CFC's Calderon was unmarked at the edge of the box and was allowed a free strike on goal. His right footed strike, which took a deflection off the arm of defender Tom Thorpe, had Debjit wrong-footed and found the back of the net to put the home team in the lead once again.
Right when it seemed like the match was heading towards familiar trajectory for ATK, Keane threaded an inch perfect through ball to release Kuqi, whose second effort at goal was slammed into the roof of the net, making it 2-2 and in the 89th minute.
However, it was Chennaiyin that had the last laugh as Calderon, who has been in fine form so far, caught ATK napping to provide the pass for Jeje's winner in the 91st minute and with that, clinch all three points.
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