Schembri and Valskis injury time goals hand Chennaiyin FC thrilling first win of the season

Chennai, November 25, 2019: Chennaiyin FC grabbed their first win of the 2019-20 Hero Indian Super League season with a late, late 2-1 win over Hyderabad FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here today.

After over 700 minutes without a goal in the ISL, CFC scored twice in injury time through strikers Andre Schembri (90+2’) and Nerijus Valskis (90+6’) with a Matthew Kilgallon equalizer (90+5’) for Hyderabad FC sandwiched in between. The enthralling finish sent the home fans in raptures as celebrations continued long after the full-time whistle.

Chennaiyin came into this one in search of their first goal and victory of the campaign, as Head Coach John Gregory made three changes to the side that lost 3-0 to Bengaluru FC two weeks back. An injured Dhanpal Ganesh made way for Afghan midfielder Masih Saighani in the middle; as Thoi Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte also came in for Andre Schembri and Rahim Ali respectively.

After a slow start that saw CFC have more possession but no real penetration, Chhangte came close twice in a matter of three minutes. The first was a close range shot saved by HFC keeper Kamaljit Singh, and the second a cut-back from the Mizo winger that was almost guided into his own net by Rohit Kumar which Kamaljit did well to save again.

The HFC custodian was at it again two minutes later, thwarting CFC right-back Edwin Vanspaul. The latter lashed a shot at goal after Kamaljit had spilled it, only for the keeper to readjust and parry the effort away.

Chhangte then had a gilt-edged chance which he should’ve buried to make it 1-0 on 25 minutes. Thoi’s charge down the right ended with the perfect looped cross to the centre of the box for an onrushing Chhangte. The CFC No. 7 headed agonizingly wide with the entire goal at his mercy and Kamaljit scrambling.

It was all CFC by this point, but the home side just couldn’t catch a break and find that elusive opener. Chhangte was again the provider, this time his cut back finding Anirudh Thapa in the middle of the box. The young India international swivelled and got a powerful shot away, which was saved by Kamaljit and subsequently cleared off the line by Matthew Kilgallon. 

Then at the stroke of half-time, Robin Singh missed a huge chance for Hyderabad at the other end. Played onside by Eli Sabia, Robin broke free one-on-one against Vishal Kaith, only to find the side netting of the CFC goal with his shot.

An intense first half was followed by more of the same in the second period. CFC were extremely unfortunate not to go ahead on 50 minutes, when Thoi’s shot from inside the box was saved by Kamaljit’s fingertips and out off the upright. On the hour mark, Rafael Crivellaro had a pop from distance, his top-corner bound effort tipped over by none other than Kamaljit.

Two minutes later Eli Sabia was the next to come excruciatingly close. He forayed into the HFC box, played a one-two with Thapa before unleashing a fierce drive which bounced out off the crossbar with Kamaljit well beaten.

With the last quarter of the game approaching, CFC made a double change with Dragos Firtulescu and Germanpreet Singh coming on for Masih and Thoi respectively.

CFC continued to pile on the pressure on HFC, but the latter’s defenders were giving it their all, putting their bodies on the line. Well into the last ten minutes, CFC made their final change as Schembri replaced Rafael.

And it was Schembri that finally broke the deadlock for CFC, two minutes into stoppage time. Much to Gregory’s delight, the Maltese forward took a touch and fired in low at the near post from an acute angle to send the crowd into wild celebrations.

But Hyderabad FC almost spoiled the party, equalizing with 95 minutes on the clock. Kilgallon, who was heroic on the other end, rose highest and headed home from a corner as CFC switched off. 

It was CFC striker and No. 9 Nerijus Valskis who’d lost his marker Kilgallon for the equalizer. But the Lithuanian striker more than redeemed himself a minute later, playing a gutsy one-two with Schembri on the edge of the HFC box before taking two neat touches and curling one past a flailing Kamaljit to make it 2-1. The goal and late drama sent the home fans into delirium as Valskis won it for Gregory’s men with virtually the last kick of the game.

Chennaiyin are back in action in two days’ time on Thursday 28th November 2019, again at home, and will be looking to build on this performance as Odisha FC visit.