Pedro Manzi, I-League’s highest scorer with 18 goals to his credit, scored two and set up another to help table-toppers Chennai City FC humble hosts Shillong Lajong FC 4-2 in a return leg fixture at Shillong’s JLN Stadium.
His Spaniards Sandro and Nestor scored the other two, while Shillong’s goals were scored by Kitboklang Pale and Samuel Lyngdoh respectively.
Chennai consolidated their top spot on the points table with this win. Their tally of 37 points from 17 games takes them five points clear of their nearest rivals. Shillong remain at the bottom of the table with 10 points from the same number of games.
Akbar Nawaz gave new recruit and Italian keeper Mauro Boerchio his first start under the Chennai woodwork while Allison Kharsyntiew started with an unchanged XI.
The game began with Chennai City FC pressing hard and high from the first minute. The Spanish duo of Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez, along with Ajith Kumar combined well to threaten the young Lajong defence.
It soon yielded results when a spectacular corner-kick from Sandro curled in enough to beat keeper Phurcha Lachempa’s misjudged effort and enter the Shillong net. It was only seven minutes into the game and Chennai were in the lead.
What came as a double blow to the home team was losing keeper Lachempa to injury. Shillong started to attack a little late in the half and made some threatening moves to keep debutant Mauro Boerchio busy.
Phrangki Buam, Mahesh Naorem, and Kitboklang Pale combined well to create a few opportunities but could not convert any.
Lajong’s efforts finally paid dividends when Kitboklang Pale came up with a clinical finish, after a brilliant through ball from Phrangki Buam in the 23rdminute. The first half came to an end with the scoreline reading 1-1 for both the teams.
In the second half, Lajong began the more enterprising and Phrangki Buam and Samuel Lyngdoh missed some golden chances to score.
However, as has been the case throughout the length of the league, Chennai’s Spanish armada led by the redoubtable Pedro Manzi changed the complexion of the game in the last 12 minutes.
Off a Sandro free-kick from the left flank outside the Lajong box in the 78th minute, Manzi headed in for his 17th of the league. He then latched on to a long ball four minutes later, from Josef Kaplan from inside the Chennai half and crossed accurately for countryman Nestor Jesus this time to head home.
Shillong showed the usual fight and Samuel Lyngdoh converted a penalty in the 85th minute when Kaplan was judged to have brought down Mahesh inside the box.
Manzi, however, put all speculation to rest with a 90th-minute strike to not only go on top of the scorer’s list with his 18th league goal but also secure three points for his team as they continue with their march towards a maiden title.