CHENNAI: IT was billed as a contest between FC Pune City’s attack versus Chennaiyin FC’s defence which was pretty much the theme of the first-half. However, the hosts rode their luck aided by questionable refereeing calls and were rewarded for their spirit as they grabbed a narrow 1-0 win at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.
The win meant Chennaiyin went top of the standings with 20 points from 10 games. Bengaluru are two points behind, having played a game less. Pune remain third with 16 points from 10. All eyes will now be on Chennaiyin’s next home game which is against Bengaluru on February 6. As soon as the referee blew the whistle for kick-off, Pune began pressing for the opening goal. Knowing it would be a tight affair, the first goal would always be the key.
The visitors were almost rewarded for their relentless pressure with Diego Carlos, Marcelinho’s replacement, hitting the post. Three chances fell to the Pune front men but they went begging. With top scorer Marcelinho not available, there was always a danger that the Stallions would suffer. However, head coach Ranko Popovic had taken pains to point out that their squad was good enough to cope with the Uruguayan’s absence. Chennaiyin FC Assistant coach Syed Sabir Pasha had obviously a lot of things to say during the lemon break.
And it worked as the hosts came out with renewed vigour. They were finally rewarded for their efforts as a fine piece of skill followed by a well-placed finish from Gregory Nelson sealed the deal for the Blues. 13,992 fans went crazy and it marked a special Pongal gift for the fans. “Our midfielders were not in the game in the opening half. Dhanpal (Ganesh) was asked to calm down and slowly but surely we came back into the contest. I think we deserved the win,” Pasha said. What helped the Blues was the return of their captain Henrique Sereno.
The other talking point and a recurring theme of this year’s ISL was the refereeing. Referee Raktim Saha gave the hosts a soft penalty in the first half when Adil Khan appeared to push Gregory Nelson. Justice prevailed as Vishal Kaith saved a meek effort from Rene Mihelic. “Already our head coach has been suspended. Even during their goal, there was a foul during the build-up which went unpunished. I don’t want to elaborate too much but this is a problem,” Pune assistant coach Vladica Grujic Grujic said.