Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi's hat-trick and Nicolas Velez's brace were the highlights in a highly entertaining 3-3 draw between defending champion Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC.
The 'see-saw match' that saw NorthEast equalise thrice, the last a 93rd minute header by Shouvik Ghosh, ended Chennaiyin's chances of retaining the ISL crown.
Manager Materazzi kept true to his tag-name as ISL’s ‘tinkerman’ – captain Bernard Mendy finding a place only in the bench with marquee signing John Arne Riise and Eli Sabia Filho forming the centre-back partnership. With Jeje still not available, striker David Succi and Dudu Omagbemi started upfront for the Blues.
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Manager Vingada’s gamble of starting defender Gustavo Lazzaretti back-fired, with the Highlanders having to substitute the Brazilian after six minutes after the injury resurfaced.
The game started in high intensity, with both teams wanting nothing short of a victory to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Chennaiyin started the brighter of the two teams. Succi's sixth minute drive from outside the box narrowly missing the far post before defender Riise rolled back the years with a pile-driver of a free-kick in the 13th minute that produced a stunning save out of former India No.1 Subrata Paul.
The match was a classic example of how two teams could have the same formation but play differently. Both teams had a 4-4-2 on paper but NorthEast United strikers – Emiliano Alfaro and Nicolas Velez — wanted the balls to be played into empty space for them to run on to while Chennai's physically imposing strikers Dudu and Succi wanted the balls to be played to their bodies.
It was the big men of the home side who had the first laugh. Standing captain Mehrajuddin Wadoo found space in the right flank and his cross was met with a firm header from Dudu to open the scoring in the 34th minute.
The lead did not last long though. Velez and Alfaro had been causing difficulties for the Chennaiyin defenders and in the 38th minute the former created some space using his quick-feet, right outside the box, to unleash a thundering shot that keeper Karanjit Singh could only watch and admire.
But there was to be more drama in the first half. Needing nothing short of a win to stay in the competition, Materazzi's men pushed hard and found an equaliser in the 46th minute. Full back Jerry Lalrinzuala made a darting run on the left flank before putting in a low cross for Dudu, who put it past 'keeper Paul.
NorthEast came out all guns blazing in the second half and found an equaliser in the 52nd minute. Argentine striker Velez latched on to a poor clearance by Sabia's and hit a first time shot that went through a defender's and caught keeper unawares. Karanjit should have done better though.
The defending champion continued to press hard but NorthEast stood it's ground to thwart all the attacks.
It was a forced substitution that brought Chennai back in to the game. Injured midfielder Hans Mulder was replaced by Bernard Mendy in the 77th minute and the Frenchman injected dynamism into the team. In the 81st minute, midfielder Raphael Augusto played a through ball for Mendy, who squared it for Dudu. The striker created enough confusion in the box to bundle in a goal and give the host the lead.
But fate had other plans for the champion. With only minutes remaining in the game, substitute Katsumi Yusa won a corner for NorthEast. Shouvik Ghosh rose the highest in the resulting corner to thump in a header and end Chennaiyin's chances of qualifying for playoffs.
The Highlanders remain in the hunt for a berth though but will need to secure victories in both their remaining games.