CHENNAI: Fortune, they say, favours the brave. Chennai City coach V Soundararajan certainly was brave on Saturday. His two-day analysis of Chennai City’s goalscoring problems — indeed that was all he got to prepare for this match — had led him to conclude that the solution was to play someone in the hole behind one of his two Brazilian strikers, rather than pair them together.
It was a risk, for it meant fielding either Michael Regin or Raegan Albernas, both of whom are unproven and inexperienced at this level. But Soundararajan went ahead anyway.
His reward was a second home win as Chennai City edged out a lethargic Mumbai FC 2-1. Regin — Soundararajan’s ace in the hole — was erratic, but proved to be a bridge between striker Charles De Souza and the rest. Charles, buoyed by the support, put in his best display of the season so far. And a Chennai team that had scored three goals all season before this game, scored two on Saturday.
“I told Charles to play between the two centre-backs. That was our game plan,” Soundararajan said after the game. “Regin was not up to the mark. I wanted him to play as a shadow striker, but he was playing as a withdrawn midfielder. The two sessions we had, we focused on the shape of the team. With the limited time available, we only had the time to focus on ourselves.” It was an approach that paid off for him and his team.
At first, it had looked like the script would be a familiar one for Chennai. A sluggish start, devoid of even a hint of creativity, was followed by the silliest of mistakes. Debabrata Roy, in the 27th minute, opted to use his hands while trying to clear a corner.
Referee Pranjal Banerjee immediately pointed to the spot. Up stepped substitute Raimundo, who had been on the pitch for only a few minutes. But, he showed no signs of rust and sent keeper Shahinlal Meloli the wrong way.
This was where Chennai City, in previous matches, had lost their way. Not on Saturday, though. They took barely two minutes to restore parity. Charles stormed into the box and took a shot, only for Mumbai’s new recruit Mehrajuddin Wadoo to block and concede a corner. But Edwin Vanspaul’s delivery found Dhanpal Ganesh, who powered an unerring header past Mumbai keeper Laxmikant Kattimani.
If Dhanpal’s goal was all power, Charles’ winner in the 69th minute was an exercise in sublimity. The Brazilian dribbled past one defender, juggled the ball over another one, and then poked it past keeper Kattimani, before racing past him and ensuring that the ball went in. It was a goal that deserved to win any game.