CHENNAI: ON Wednesday, Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory said he was not worried about Jeje Lalpekhlua’s goal-drought. For him, the team should win and it doesn’t matter whose name is on the scoresheet. Late drama is one of the best things about the beautiful game. On Thursday, Jeje played the lead role in the drama unfolding at the Marina Arena, as Chennaiyin beat ATK 3-2. Jeje’s goals were not spectacular. But he did a striker’s job — be at the right place at the right time.
The scoreline is a bit misleading as the first-half ended 0-0. Despite chances for both teams, neither looked confident in front of goal. Chennaiyin coach Gregory’s team selection surprised everyone. Raphael Augusto, arguably their best player so far, was tipped to start the match alongside Dhanpal Ganesh in centralmidfield for the hosts. While ATK coach Teddy Sheringham, had said that Keane is a long way from making his first start. On Thursday, the opposite happened. Augusto was not even among substitutes while Keane came in for Kolkata at the hourmark.
Thankfully for Chennaiyin, Augusto’s presence in midfield was not missed. Keane did not have the best of starts though. Three minutes after his arrival, Chennaiyin scored. Augusto’s replacement Jaime Gavilan Martinez played a short corner before whipping a dangerous cross, which was met by Henrique Sereno’a towering header. The Portuguese was unlucky as the ball hit the post. But Jeje made no mistake, coolly tapping home the rebound for his first goal of the season. The goal was a bit unfair on ATK who were attacking more swiftly, even having more shots on target and possession. But Teddy Sheringham’s men did not give up.
A few shots from distance and hopeful crosses finally benefited them. Jose Egas Branco hit a supreme half-volley after a confusion in the box to make it 1-1. ATK got a clear chance to kill the game two minutes later when Njazi Kuqi was clean through. The Finnish striker however, hit straight at Karanjit Singh. Five minutes after, they were punished for sloppy finishing. Gregory Nelson and Rene Mihelic had a neat exchange before leftback Jerry Lalrinzuala laid the ball for Inigo Calderon to smash it home. But that was not the end.
Two minutes later, Kuqi made amends for the earlier miss. Keane played a lovely throughball to Kuqi, who again missed the first attempt but managed to strike home the rebound. Just when everybody thought it was all over, Jeje once more restored Chennaiyin’s lead. Calderon was again at the centre of it, firing a low cross from the right. ATK goalkeeper Debjit Majumder cleared the ball straight to Jeje, who headed home from six yards to seal the match. The win sent Chennaiyin to top of the table with nine points while ATK sit bottom with two.