CHENNAI: Playing their final home game, Chennai City clinched a memorable win by overcoming East Bengal 2-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Chennai.
Willis Plaza (43’) gave East Bengal the lead in the first half before Nandhakumar (57’) saw his shot trickle through Rehenesh’s legs. Youngster Prasanth then clinched the winner (93′) with an opportunistic strike after the goalkeeper parried Charles’ shot.
In what was a must-win fixture, Trevor Morgan opted to make wholesale changes to the team that was upset by Churchill Brothers. Lalrindika Ralte, Narayan Das and Rahul Bheke came in while Arnab Mondal and Willis Plaza were also deemed fit enough to start.
Chennai City, on the other hand, made just the sole change to the team that held Bengaluru during midweek with Marcos Vinicius replacing Raegan Albarnas in Soundararajan’s 4-4-1-1 system.
East Bengal started the game on the front foot and fashioned the first chance in the third minute when Lalrindika Ralte played Payne through the middle and the Australian went on to skip past a couple of challenges and got a shot away from the edge of the area which had to be kept out by an alert Karanjit.
The home team, though, looked good on the counter and forced a diving save from Rehenesh in the ninth minute. Charles laid off Nandha’s cross to Marcos Vinicius and the Brazilian’s effort was parried away by Rehenesh.
Meanwhile, Nikhil Poojary went down clutching his ankles and Morgan was forced to send on Mohammed Rafique for the youngster. Though Chris Payne forced Karanjit into another save in the 20th minute, the early intensity from the Red and Golds had dropped off.
But seven minutes later, Lalrindika Ralte saw an effort from inside the penalty box after a scything run through the Chennai City defence come back off the bar. Ralte would go on to miss another glorious opportunity in the 40th minute when he capitalised on a high ball into the box, made space for himself and blasted over from close range.
But, East Bengal got the much awaited go-ahead goal immediately after when Mehtab Hossain played Rahul Bheke down the the right and his cross was thumped in by Willis Plaza at the near post.
The goal ensured Trevor Morgan’s nerves were eased as the teams went into the break.
Post the half-time break, East Bengal looked a bit off their game and the match did not see much chances until the 57th minute when Chennai hit back on a counter. Zakeer won a loose ball in midfield and played in Raegan who was inside the box with Bukenya on him. The striker then spotted an unmarked Nandhakumar on the right and played a pass for him who went on to hit a first time shot venomously at Rehenesh who allowed the ball to sneak in through his legs.
But the goal failed to spark a furious reaction from East Bengal who failed to penetrate the Chennai City backline who dealt with aerial balls launched towards the two physical forwards with ease.
Apart from Chris Payne’s volley that went just over and header wedged against the bar by Abhishek Das, East Bengal were flat and left themselves open to Chennai’s counterattacks.
On one such counter, Raegan sent an effort just wide as the game neared the end. Trevor Morgan’s side committed men forward in desperate search for an equaliser which ultimately led to their downfall. In the second minute of injury-time, Charles burst forward on the counter, held off a couple of defenders and shot straight at Rehenesh who saved with his legs.
But second-half substitute Prasanth Karuthadathkuni was on hand to slot the rebound home from inside the six-yard box as Chennai City bench went into delirium.
There was no time for East Bengal to salvage a point from the game as they saw their title ambitions take a huge hit.
After the major upset in the last match before the International break, Chennai City FC climb up to the 8th spot with 13 points from 14 matches while Kingfisher East Bengal stay second with 27 points having played the equal number of matches.