Bhubaneswar: Chennaiyin FC came back from a goal down to beat NorthEast United FC 2-1 in the fourth Hero Super Cup 2019 quarter-final played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday. The victory sets up Chennaiyin for a semi-final clash against rivals ATK on April 10.
NorthEast had the better of the early exchanges and Lalthathanga Khawlhring tested Karanjit Singh early on with a shot from outside the box, forcing the Chennaiyin goalkeeper to make a good save and clear the danger in exchange for a corner. The Highlanders, however, made full use of the set-piece and replicated a routine from the training pitch to perfection. The corner was played short for Khawlhring, who found Panagiotis Triadis inside the Chennaiyin box with an inch-perfect pass. The winger cut the ball back for a host of NorthEast players arriving inside the six-yard box. Rowllin Borges made sure he tapped the ball in. With nine minutes on the clock, NorthEast were 1-0 up.
Despite going a goal down, Chennaiyin’s build-up lacked any conviction in the first 30 minutes and Jeje Lalpekhlua cut an isolated figure in the attacking third. After the opening goal, chances were few and far between for both sides.
The next big goal threat came on the 33rd minute, and it resulted in Chennaiyin’s equaliser. Anirudh Thapa received the ball after another short corner and put in a teasing ball inside the Highlanders’ box. Mailson Alves outjumped everyone and planted a powerful header past a helpless Gurmeet in the NorthEast goal.
The goal spurred Chennaiyin on, as the two-time Hero ISL champions took over the reins of the match. Thapa was Chennaiyin’s standout player on the pitch by far and was running the show from the middle of the park. Seven minutes after providing the assist for Alves, the India international was at the thick of things yet again. The 21-year-old nicked the ball off Khawlhring in the opposition half, raced into the box and fired a low shot across Gurmeet to give Chennaiyin the advantage.
The Highlanders could have drawn level seconds before the half time whistle when Eli Sabia’s scuffed clearance fell kindly for Khawlhring. The youngster should have hit the target from eight yards out but rushed his effort and sent it wide. The referee signalled for the break with Chennaiyin 2-1 up.
NorthEast head coach Eelco Schattorie made two changes at half-time, bringing on Girik Khosla and Keegan Pereira for Triadis and Mato Grgic respectively. Shortly after the restart, Jeje took a crack from distance but Gurmeet was vigilant enough to ensure the scoreline didn’t change.
After a somewhat scrappy first 15 minutes of the second half, NorthEast came close to finding an equaliser yet again. Khosla bombed down the right, got past Tondonba Singh and found Juan Mascia inside the box. The striker beat Karanjit with a powerful drive, only to rattle the crossbar. Mascia hit the woodwork once more with a diving header on the 77th minute and it certainly looked that it won’t be NorthEast’s day.
In an attempt to find the all-important goal, Schattorie threw Bartholomew Ogbeche into the mix. The Nigerian, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury, started the match from the bench. But with time running out, Schattorie had to turn to his star striker despite his lack of fitness.
Ogbeche’s introduction immediately livened up the Highlanders’ offence and the team looked much more threatening going forward. The Chennaiyin defence, however, held on to secure the win.
At the post-match briefing, a delighted Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory heaped praise on his young star and Hero of the Match, Anirudh Thapa. He said, “He did okay. He assisted for the first goal and scored the second one. We have tried to look after him as best as we can. He’s our player. I’m a little bit cautious. I want to look after him. He’s played a lot of games. We’re just trying to manage him in the right way which sometimes means not starting him, sometimes not putting him on the bench. To his credit, he’s a better player now than a year ago.”
Despite being consistently targeted by the Highlanders players, the silky midfielder held his own and went about his job in brilliant fashion. Revealing how he manages himself in such situations, Thapa said, “I need to be calm because I can’t get cards at that moment. My teammates, they support me. They keep me calm because they know that I don’t play rough. So, I need to be more motivated. I shouldn’t lose my composure. Midfield is more about the physicality but I have the technique. That’s my strength.”
From NorthEast’s end, head coach Eelco Schattorie shared his thoughts on the match and claimed he was satisfied with the result considering the injury-crisis plaguing his team. He said, “We started the first half really well. We scored a good goal from a corner. But the biggest problem that I expected was that we didn’t play for four weeks. All my training sessions were with 14-15 players. So, we lost some rhythm. My centre-back Mato Grgic had to come off in the first half. Second half we played really well. We had enough chances. We did well.”