Goals from strikers Jeje Lalpekhlua and Davide Succi either side of the half-time helped Chennai beat Antonio Habas’s FC Pune City and halt its five-game winless run in the Indian Super League.
Chennaiyin FC had struggled to finish off matches after dominating games recently, much to the unhappiness of manager Marco Materazzi, but there were no hiccups today, as the home side produced a clinical performance to slingshot itself back into the race for a play-off berth.
Concerned with his team’s leaking defence (Chennai had conceded 7 goals in its previous two outings), coach Materazzi started with a 4-4- 2 formation; Kerala-born Zakeer Mundampara finding a place in the side at the expense of Siam Hanghal. Captain Bernard Mendy went back to the defence after his stint in the midfield against Kerala with marquee signing John Arne Riise once again failing to earn a starting place.
Antonio Habas stuck to his favoured formation of 3-5-2 formation. Bengaluru FC star Eugeneson Lyngdoh once again started on the bench with coach opting to play Dramane Traore and Anibal Rodriguez as the strikers.
Pune started the game brightly with a second minute free-kick by Jonatan Lucca causing confusion in the Chennaiyin defence. In the eighth minute, striker Jeje combined well with Augusto with some neat interchange of passes but the final ball to Succi was miss-timed and caught the striker in an off-side position.
Chennai was playing a 4-2-2-2 while in possession – Zakeer and Blasi sitting back protecting the defence while Mulder and Augusto aided the attack. The formation, although quite narrow, helped Chennai out-man Pune in the central midfield. Augusto won the possession of the ball in the 21st minute but his run to the edge of the box ended in an anti-climax with the midfielder scuffing the finish.
The problem with playing two strikers up-front is that eventually it becomes a game of long-balls. The game saw 34 crosses being played by both the sides. While Pune opted to put these in from the flanks, Chennai had a more direct approach with all its midfielders and defenders trying to set Succi and Jeje free whenever they got possession. At times, the match looked like the ongoing World Chess Championship, with two strategists trying to outsmart the other.
Zakeer played two dangerous crosses near the 40 th minute but Pune defenders somehow averted the danger. AIFF academy graduate Jerry then found Jeje with a pin-point cross from the left in the 43rd minute which the Indian striker knocked down for Succi. But the Italian striker couldn’t get enough power on his shot.
The trio combined again in the 44th minute to open the scoring for Chennai. Augusto played a pass to Mulder, who found Jerry free on the left wing. The left-back then sent in a dangerous cross which was knocked into the path of Jeje by Succi. The Mizoram-born striker showed great composure to head the ball into the corner to give the home side the lead at half-time.
Manager Materazzi had expressed his dissatisfaction in his side’s inability to kill the games in the pre-match press conference, best example being the reverse fixture which ended 1-1, but the side didn’t waste any time in building its lead this time around.
After surviving some early pressure from Pune – ‘keeper Karanjit Singh pulling off a stunning to save to stop Jonatan Lucca’s deflected effort from outside the box – Chennai turned the attack on its opposition. Augusto found Succi with an accurate cross from the right wing and the Italian striker used his tall frame to climb on the pass and head it into the top corner to give Chennai a two goal lead in the 52nd minute.
Habas brought in Lyngdoh and La Masia product Jesus Tato in a bid to make a come-back but the forwards had little effect on the game with the former struggling in his role as a slightly withdrawn midfielder on the right-wing – his tendencies to venture into the centre (where he plays for Bengaluru FC) causing some confusion for his Pune teammates.
Chennai players controlled the match, playing the game to a tempo that suited them. Such was their dominance that coach Materazzi could afford to give Augusto a breather by substituting him for Riise in the 83rd minute.
The win puts Chennaiyin firmly back in the race for a top-four finish (fifth in the table, tied on points with fourth placed Atletico de Kolkata) while FC Pune City will have to start fresh again after its two-match winning run came to a halt.