Chennaiyin edges past NorthEast United in a 4-3 goal-fest
The Marina Arena witnessed four different players from the Machans camp Rahim Ali (3′), Kwame Karikari (56′), Anirudh Thapa (62′) and Sajal Bag (90+4′) gracing the scoresheet. Meanwhile, Wilmar Jordan’s brace and a Goal of the Season worthy strike of Parthib Gogoi kept NorthEast United alive until the final minute of the battle.
Chennaiyin turned up for this encounter after registering two consecutive triumphs in the recent matches and went on to name an unchanged starting XI to further sustain the positive momentum. Local lad Jockson Dhas and the Dutch magician Abdenasser El Khayati returned to the Machans bench after missing out on the previous fixture.
On the other hand, the Highlanders gaffer Vincenzo Annese made hefty changes to the previous starting eleven with an ultimate aim to fire the final shot. Kule Mbombo started the game from the substitute bench while the veteran French forward Romain Philippoteaux could not even make it to the matchday squad of Highlanders.
The NorthEast skipper Wilmar Jordan took the first kick of the game donning classic all-white kits against the Marina Machans in home colors. Jeje Lalpekhlua who recently announced his retirement from professional football turned up at Chennai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to support his former club.
The Chennaiyin club legend along with the Indian national team’s head coach Igor Stimac was invited by the super-animated owner Abhishek Bachchan to root for the two-time ISL champions in their final appearance of the season.
As expected, the home team intended to break the deadlock in the initial minutes and also succeeded in the third minute itself. The German midfielder Julius Duker showcased his mastery of long balls by releasing a pass that not only outwitted the offside trap but also set up a golden goal-scoring opportunity for Rahim Ali. The 22-year-old Chennaiyin forward took his time in a one-on-one position and netted the opening goal of the night through a calm and composed finish.
Chennaiyin’s dominant display in the initial stages started annoying the visitors who were seen committing frustrated fouls to cope against Machans. However, the referee also did not hesitate to penalize the undisciplined Highlanders and picked the first yellow card of the night in the 31st minute. Aaron Evans’ yellow was followed by another desperate foul from the Guwahati-based outfit as the youngster Parthib Gogoi received the second yellow card of the game.
The first-half action consummated on a 1-0 scoreline as the Tamil Nadu-based outfit managed to protect their tiny one-goal lead through the initial 45 minutes. NorthEast United remained unlucky to not get their maiden breakthrough despite putting up diligent efforts.
The Highlanders continued their ambitious attempts at the opposition goal and finally got the well-deserved breakthrough five minutes after the game resumed. It was an anticipated move initiated by Parthib Gogoi who passed it to the dangerman Wilmar Jordan and the Colombian striker outsmarted three Chennaiyin defenders to strike it into the net.
The Marina Machans also took no time to get back into the lead as the multiple clearance errors from the United guardian Arindham Bhattacharya led the Ghanaian forward Kwame Karikari to make it 2-1.
The Chennaiyin skipper Anirudh Thapa also joined the goal party at Marina Arena in the 62nd minute to affirm their commanding position. It only took a single chest touch for Thapa to control a classy long ball and thumped it with his wrong foot to bag his third goal of the season.
At this point, it seemed that the Machans were pushing toward their comfort zone as Thomas Brdaric made a couple of substitutions to slow down the game’s pace. However, another twist in the story was yet to come which relieved the hopes of the Highlanders’ fans and brought them back into the game.
A thunderous long-ranging strike from the young Assamese sensation Parthib Gogoi (74′) and Jordan’s brace completion (80′) staged a quick turnaround for the NorthEast United side out of nowhere.
Instead of decreasing the gear and settling down on a 3-3 draw, both of the combatants continued their quest for the winning goal which finally came in stoppage time. When just a minute was left in the injury time, three Chennaiyin attackers sprinted towards the United goal and pulled off a beautiful counter-attack to bring down the climax. Despite fumbling down inside the penalty area, El Khayati somehow managed to set up a chance for the teenager Sajal Bag who finished off in style to turn it into the breakthrough moment of his career.
The Tamizhan heavyweights were on the verge of bottling yet another game despite taking an early lead. However, the determination to not give up in front of passionate supporters inspired them to break the curse.
The Highlanders also put up a memorable performance at Marina Arena and played according to their high-scoring history over this particular opponent. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin’s 25-year-old commander Thapa stormed the battlefield with his midfield brilliance and was eventually conferred with the Hero of the Match honor.
Chennaiyin finished their 2022-23 campaign on a high note while the German gaffer was spirited during his post-match instructions. NorthEast United had a forgettable journey in the ninth edition as the Highlanders also couldn’t turn the tides in the final dead-rubber fixture.