Chennaiyin FC seal ISL semis spot with gritty win over Mumbai City FC

Mumbai, February 21, 2020: Chennaiyin FC sealed their Hero Indian Super League semis spot with a 1-0 win over Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena here on Friday. MCFC old boy Lucian Goian struck a dagger through his former team’s hearts with an 83rd minute goal that saw CFC notch a sixth win in the last seven games under Owen Coyle.

The result means that Chennaiyin are now on 28 points from 17 games, out of the reach of Mumbai City FC (26 points from 18 games) and Odisha FC (24 points from 17 games) with a game to spare. In their last league game, CFC play NorthEast United away in Guwahati on Tuesday February 25, 2020.

Moreover, Chennaiyin also registered a fourth successive away win for the first time in their club history, completing an epic comeback under Coyle who took over in December with the Marina Machans’ languishing in the bottom of the table.

The CFC gaffer named an unchanged starting lineup from the side that beat ATK FC 3-1 last week as Germanpreet Singh and Thoi Singh returned to the substitutes’ bench. However there was a late change for CFC ahead of kick-off as Andre Schembri was replaced by Dragos Firtulescu in the team that started, the former having to pull out with an injury.

It was a slow start from both teams as they erred on the side of caution, Dragos though looking lively on the right flank. Mumbai on the other hand had a couple of deflected shots going wide of the target.

CFC were devoid of their usual rhythm as MCFC stifled the visitors. The likes of Rafael Crivellaro, Nerijus Valskis and Edwin Vanspaul were unable to replicate their link-up play as the crossing from Lallianzuala Chhangte and the full-backs was found wanting.

It remained goalless at half-time with both teams playing out a cagey and cautions first period.

The match exploded into action in the 52nd minute when striker Amine Chermiti was sent clear for the hosts. Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith came off his line and fouled him in trying to get to the ball, the referee showing the yellow card while the home fans expected another colour.

At the other end, Mumbai were exploited at the back when Chhangte ran onto a mispass and straight through on goal. However midfielder Sourav Das fouled him from behind and the referee brandished a red card rightfully.

Coyle made two changes to his team in quick succession as Thoi and Germanpreet came on for Dragos and Edwin respectively with a quarter of the game to go. However the biggest chance fell to Chermiti at the other end; a long pass controlled well by the Moroccan forward, who poked his eventual shot agonizingly wide of Kaith’s post.

Chennaiyin kept turning the screw on MCFC and on 77 minutes had a golden chance to make the most of their man advantage.

Thoi was sent through on goal by Crivellaro, the Manipuri winger cutting it back for Germanpreet whose first time shot from inside the box was saved astutely by Amrinder Singh with his foot.

And finally the goal came in the 83rd minute when former MCFC captain Lucian Goian volleyed in the winner at the far post after Valskis’ flick-on from a Crivellaro corner. This the Romanian’s first of the season, making him CFC’s fifth different goalscorer this campaign. He refused to celebrate the goal against his former side while the away fans and CFC’s management enjoyed the breakthrough passionately.

Mumbai tried desperately to get the equalizer and keep their semis hopes alive in the closing stages but that left them vulnerable at the back, which the visitors failed to exploit. CFC saw it through and sealed a semis apperance for the fourth time in six ISL seasons, riding out a late MCFC onslaught. It was also the first victory for Chennaiyin at the Mumbai Football Arena, meaning it was also their first goal at the venue.

CFC are now set to finish in 3rd or 4th spot in the ISL table depending on Bengaluru FC’s result against ATK on Saturday; further deciding if CFC will play ATK or FC Goa in the semis. Irrespective, the first leg will be played on Saturday February 29 in Chennai with the other leg away on Sunday March 8.