Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu: 12th Hero I-League table toppers Chennai City FC extended their lead to a massive eight points over their closest rivals after a hard-fought 2-1 win at home against Manipur’s Neroca FC.
At Coimbatore’s Nehru stadium, Chennai yet again rode on the exalted performance of their Spanish recruits, with goals from centre-back Roberto Eslava and midfielder Nestor Jesus in either half to register their fifth win in six matches and remain unbeaten. Neroca got one back from Singham Subhash Singh but it was not enough on the day.
The win takes Chennai to sixteen points from six games at the top while Neroca remained in the sixth position on the table with five points from a similar number of games.
Nestor Jesus, rightly adjudged the Hero of the Match, registered his third goal of the campaign, and with today’s two goals, the four Spaniards of Chennai have collectively scored 11 of their 15 goals so far.
Both coaches, Akbar Nawas of Chennai and Manuel Fraile of Neroca, made two changes to the starting line-up from the previous game. For the hosts, Pravitto Raju played in place of Mashoor Shereef while for Neroca, Singham Subash Singh made his way back into the starting eleven at the expense of Paite.
Chennai’s all-conquering Spaniards tried to impose themselves on the game from get-go and Nestor, after being caught in a couple of offside traps, showed his vision in the 13th minute with a wonderfully weighted long ball across the field for his countryman Sandro, but the latter’s effort to penetrate failed.
However, the Spaniards were to strike a minute later, as they have throughout this season, to give the home side an early lead.
Sandro it was whose delivery from a corner, resulted in a melee inside the Neroca danger area. It was the Chennai centre-back Roberto Eslava who reached the loose ball and stabbed it into the back of the net. It was ironically the third goal of the day which resulted from a melee inside the box, the previous two having come in the Aizawl-East Bengal game earlier.
Nestor missed what he would consider a sitter in the 25th minute for a chance to double the lead, after a wonderful cross from the left wing by Kamraj on the overlap, flew across the face of Italian keeper Boerchio’s goal to find Romario, who laid it first-time for the Spaniard. To everyone’s surprise, he shot wide from close.
Neroca then pressed hard for an equaliser and the last 15 minutes of the half was all Neroca with Nigerian striker Felix Chidi getting at the end of a few close chances. But the chance of the half came in the dying minutes of the half for Neroca, when from a Malem corner, the ball fell to Susheel Meetei for a free header, but it lacked direction and power to just go out of Chennai keeper Kabir’s goal.
Neroca began the second half as they had ended the first and kept up the high press. Chidi intercepted a back pass in the 48th minute, rounded the keeper and pushed the ball towards an empty goal but Ajith Kamraj was able to run back and make a goalline save. A little more thrust from Chidi and Neroca would be back into the game earlier.
It was time for Chennai’s Spanish force to make a mark again and Nestor Jesus struck Chennai’s second of the game. After a failed Neroca attack, Edwin Vanspaul caught Nestor’s run and delivered a pin-point long ball from deep inside his own half.
Once Nestor had controlled and for once had beaten the offside trap, he never looked like missing. He delayed his finish and waited till the end for an onrushing Boerchio to come close before slotting it calmly over him into the Neroca net.
Nestor, in fact, could have completed a hat-trick in the next four minutes. He was found with a delectable ball this time from Gourav Bora a minute later from the Chennai deep defence and after bringing it down beautifully, his left-footed effort went just wide. He got at the end of a Sandro chipped free-kick inside the box yet another couple of minutes later and hit straight to the keeper.
Neroca coach Fraile brought in Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa in the 63rd minute, who had gone out with an injury in Neroca’s first game, in an effort to up the tempo.
Neroca managed to pull one back in the 66th minute through Singham Subash Singh. A floated ball from the Neroca right flank seemed harmlessly heading towards Chennai defenders Eslava and Kamraj, for one of them to clear. Subash was sandwiched in between and a lack of communication led to the ball falling favourably for him. He made no mistake and bulged the Chennai net with a thundering right-footed half-volley for his first of the season.
To their credit, the Manipur side kept trying till the end but Chennai were not to be denied.