ISL: Mihelic penalty propels Chennaiyin to second spot

Chennaiyin coach John Gregory made as many as eight changes to his side. Despite that, the 2015 champion edged Mumbai City 1-0 in the Indian Super League clash.

Rene Mihelic of Chennaiyin FC

Rene Mihelic of Chennaiyin FC celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Mumbai City FC.   -  M. Vedhan

Chennaiyin FC surged to the second spot on the Indian Super League table with a 1-0 win over Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Saturday. Rene Mihelic's 67th-minute penalty was all that separated the sides in a game that Mumbai dominated for large parts.

MATCH CENTRE

With virtually nothing to lose, the visiting side seemed to dominate the tie and enjoyed a lion's share of the possession. But it's Achilles heel was its inability to create chances in front of goal. Chennaiyin, on the other hand, had a lot more goal-scoring opportunities, despite a lack of possession. 

Chennaiyin coach John Gregory had said before the tie that he would be making a couple of changes but no one expected the Englishman to make as many as eight changes, handing custodian Pawan Kumar his first ISL cap.

Mumbai goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja was put under constant pressure and was forced into action as early as the eighth minute. Jude Nworuh worked his way past three defenders to invade the Mumbai box, but an onrushing Arindam was up to the task and snatched the ball away in time.

 

Arindam was in the thick of things once again in the 19th minute when he acrobatically dived to his right to save a dangerous-looking Mihelic free-kick.

The home side's best chance of the half came in the 36th minute when Jaime Gavilan caught Marcio Nascimento Rozario napping and stole the ball away to race towards goal. Lucian Goian seemed to have clipped Gavilan in the box but referee Rowan Arumughan saw no penalty there. In a bid to clear the ball, Raju Gaikwad miscued his clearance and played the ball straight to Jude, whose attempt on goal brushed Arindam's leg and found the post. 

The deciding moment of the match came in the 67th minute when Mehrajuddin Wadoo brought down a goal-bound Gavilan in the box and gifted Chennaiyin a penalty. Mihelic stepped up to take the spot-kick and the Slovenian made no mistake as he found the right bottom corner to give his side the crucial lead. While the Mumbai custodian did get a hand on the ball, it wasn't enough to keep his side in the tie.

There was some late drama in the dying minutes as Balwant Singh found the back of the net in the last minute of added time. Everton Santos fed Balwant on the goal-mouth but the former was found to be in an offside position and Chennaiyin survived the scare to clinch all three points.

The win propels Chennaiyin FC to the second spot, which means it will play the second leg of its semifinal at home at the Marina Arena. It's opponent, though, will be decided after Sunday's clash between FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC.