Chandigarh: Chennai City FC remained unbeaten in the 12th Hero I-League thanks to a penalty save by Spanish keeper Nauzet Garcia Santana on the injury time, after playing out a goalless draw at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkhula against hosts Minerva Punjab FC in Sunday’s first game.
With this win, Chennai restored a four-point gap at the top of the league table.
The match did not rise to any great heights as the scoreline suggests. However Chennai were the more dominant side, particularly in the second half. Minerva, despite bolstering their attack with the return of the Japanese striker Yu Kuboki, who incidentally missed the penalty, also played out their second goalless draw of the season.
The result takes Chennai to 18 points from eight games while Minerva stay at fifth with 12 points from the same number of completed games.
Besides Yu Kuboki, Bhaskar Roy also regained his position under the Minerva bar with Arshdeep who started in the last game getting back on the bench. For Chennai, Mashoor Shareef started in midfield in place of Pravitto Raju, who had started the last game.
Minerva had the first clear chance of the game within first 10 minutes when a Lancine Toure header went wide off a well thought out set-piece. A few minutes later, William Opoku cut in past two defenders and unleashed a right-footer bringing out a save from Chennai’s Spanish goalie Santana.
Chennai’s best effort of the first half hour was a Pedro Manzi strike from outside the box which was safely collected by Bhaskar Roy.
Yu Kuboki then showed the first glimpse of his prowess in front of goal, when Njoku’s header off a Toure long ball played him on in the 34th minute and with a defender on his shoulder, came up with a clever movement with the intent of chipping the keeper. The ball dipped but still lobbed over the target.
Chennai ended the otherwise even half stronger though with two chances in the last five minutes. First Nestor caught Minerva on the break and found Manzi inside the box whose strike was off target. Then, Nestor’s compatriot Sandro played Charles inside the Minerva box and the burly midfielder’s strike, after going past two defenders, was thwarted by Bhaskar.
In the second half, Chennai gained dominance and Nestor and Manzi combined well to create several chances, however their finishing today left a lot to be desired.
In the end, Minerva had a golden opportunity to end Chennai’s unbeaten run, when referee Sathosh Baskaran awarded them a penalty for a foul inside the box with only five minutes of added time left. Kuboki stepped up to take it but a weak effort brought about a regulation save by keeper Santana.