KOCHI: A lot of the pre-match talk centred around how champions Chennai City would cope with the departure of star striker Pedro Manzi. But they showed enough firepower in a 3-2 win over Gokulam Kerala FC at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode on Thursday.
The win helped the defending champions end a four-match winless run and lifted them to fifth on the table, while Gokulam slid down to seventh. It was a frantic southern derby which saw three red cards as Gokulam finished with nine men and Chennai City with 10. The last time these two met, Chennai City had won 3-2 and they started on an attacking note. It was an end to end affair with action switching from one end to the other.
The visitors were in no mood to sit back and pushed Gokulam into their own half. After absorbing the early pressure, Gokulam started growing into the game and began to exploit the spaces left open by the visitors. They started swinging in some dangerous crosses into the box and keeper Garcia Santana had to be alert to thwart the danger. Even though Gokulam were in control when the half-time was approaching, Chennai City scored against the run of play.
The Gokulam defence was caught napping which saw Adolfo Miranda open the scoring. The Spaniard made a smart run behind the defence who were left static and steered the ball past goalkeeper Vigneshwaran Baskaran right at the stroke of half-time. Seconds later, Yusa Katsumi almost doubled the lead but his close-range effort was punched clear by Baskaran. Marcus and Muhammad Irshad came close to equalising at the start of the second half but it was Chennai City who scored again. Ten minutes into the second half, a swift counterattack was finished off by Pravitto Raju who scored from close range to make it 2-0.
Gokulam were not able to bring their target man Henry Kisekka into the game and the likes of Kisekka and Marcus were not able to penetrate the Chennai City defence. They were throwing men forward in an attempt to get back into the game but they were exposed at the back. Chennai City scored a third from a lightning-quick counterattack. Suhail Pasha ran the length of the pitch with the ball and picked out Sriram Boopathi who finished from close range in the 77th minute.
Shibil Muhammed pulled one goal back for Gokulam just four minutes later to give the home fans some hope. He scored again in the 90th minute from a set-piece to give Chennai a fright but the visitors held on.
Three players were sent off in injury time, with Gokulam’s Haroon Amiri and Muhammad Irshad and Chennai City’s Mashoor Shereef getting the marching orders.