Ninthoi Meetei equalizes late to help Chennaiyin draw 1-1 against East Bengal
East Bengal looked set to end their three-game winless streak in the 2023 ISL season as they had a one-goal lead till the 85th minute of the contest. But, Ninthoinganba Meetei spoiled their plans as his goal earned Chennaiyin a point at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday.
East Bengal coach Carles Cuadrat made three changes to the side that lost 1-2 to Kerala Blasters. Hijazi Maher replaced Mohammed Rakip in the back four while Vishnu Puthiya Valappill replaced Nishu Kumar in the wings. Souvik Chakrabarti slotted himself in the attacking midfield position as Javier Siverio got relegated to the bench.
Chennaiyin coach Owen Coyle also made three changes to the side that lost 0-3 to Goa as he put V Ajith Kumar in place of Sachu Siby at the left-back position. Injuries to Connor Shields and Rahim Ali allowed Vincy Barretto and Jordan Murray to replace them respectively upfront.
East Bengal got their first chance to take the lead in the 5th minute when Cleiton Silva lobbed a pass upfront but Ryan Edwards miscued his clearance and it fell towards Vishnu at the edge of the box. The youngster took a shot from a distance but Edwards made up for his previous error by sticking out his boot and clearing the danger.
Naorem Mahesh Singh took the resultant corner-kick and Maher got a free header to himself in the centre of the box but his towering header sailed over the crossbar.
Ajith swung a cross from the left flank in the 7th minute but Lalchungnunga deflected it away. The ball went only as far as Chennaiyin’s Ayush Adhikari outside the circle who took a first-time shot. East Bengal goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill tipped it over the crossbar to keep the scoreline level.
In the 14th minute, Chennaiyin’s Farukh Choudhary made a dazzling run through the left flank and drilled a low cross but Mandar Rao Dessai cleared it away. The ball landed towards Cristian Battocchio outside the box who spotted the run of Jordan Murray. The former played a chipped pass that found the latter but Murray was unable to control the ball with his first touch and ended up miscuing his final shot.
Despite being put on the back foot in the early exchanges, East Bengal took the lead against the run of play. Prabhsukhan’s goal-kick found Cleiton in the opposition half who nodded it towards the path of Vishnu.
The 21-year-old Keralite surged past the challenge of Bikash Yumnam before crossing the ball low towards the middle of the box where Adhikari fluffed his lines while trying to clear it and ended up scoring an own goal in the 28th minute.
In the 40th minute, Chennaiyin’s captain Rafael Crivellaro wanted to make amends for his side when he lobbed a pass towards Murray at the edge of the box. However, the ball was too close to Prabhsukhan who made himself big to deny Murray any chance whatsoever to poke the ball past him.
The second half started on a relatively quieter note than the first one with heavy tackles from both sides nullifying any attacking threat.
Chennaiyin’s Vincy Barreto galloped through the left flank in the 72nd minute but Lalchungnunga snatched the ball from his feet with a shoulder tackle. Harmanjot Khabra then made a pass towards Naorem Mahesh Singh who turned past his marker and released Mandar at the left flank. The latter tried to sneak the ball past Chennaiyin’s goalkeeper Debjit Majumdar at the near post but the latter thwarted his attempts.
The substitutes Ninthoinganba Meetei and Irfan Yadwad nearly pulled things back for Chennaiyin two minutes later when the former made a looping cross towards the far post from the right flank. The ball evaded Prabhsukhan and Irfan had a simple task to tap it home. But, his shot fired past the face of goal and Jose Pardo made the final clearance.
Irfan finally made amends for his earlier mistake by bagging a pre-assist in the 86th minute for the Marina Machans. Dispossessing Pardo at the final third, he made a pass towards Crivellaro who released Ninthoinganba with acres of space upfront. Prabhsukhan marched forward to close him down but Ninthoinganba squeezed the ball between his legs to find the back of the net.
In the second minute of injury time, Crivellaro sent a curling cross and Irfan sneaked past Maher with a full stretched dive to get a touch on it. However, he failed to keep his final shot on target as the ball trickled out of play.
Chennaiyin suffered a massive blow in the 96th minute of the game when Ryan Williams got his marching orders. Already on a yellow card, last man Williams shoved substitute Siverio down the pitch. The referee didn’t hesitate in showing him another yellow card as Owen Coyle’s side finished the match with ten men.
With seven points from seven games, Chennaiyin occupies the seventh spot and will face Kerala Blasters away from home on Wednesday. Williams’ red card will compound Owen Coyle’s selection problems as he has a couple of players down with injuries and will also miss the services of a foreign central defender.
East Bengal continues to be in the ninth position with five points from six games and requires a win now more than ever and will aim for the same when they host NorthEast United on Monday.