Indian football action was at its best when NEROCA FC played Chennai City FC. A hat-trick from their star striker Pedro Manzi was neutralised by three goals from the hosts at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium in Imphal on Monday.
A stunning comeback from the hosts in the second half ensured that they snatched a point from the table toppers.
With the win, the Akbar Nawas-helmed Chennai City have 34 points in their kitty from 16 matches, with four games left to play. They will stay back in North East to face-off against a red-hot Shillong Lajong FC this coming weekend.
On the other hand, NEROCA FC will travel to Panchkula to play their next match against Minerva Punjab FC later this month.
Let us look at the 3 reasons why Chennai City FC drew with NEROCA FC:
#3 Chennai City FC's collapse in the second half
The Spanish trio showed glimpses of brilliance even on Monday, combining well in the first half, often outclassing the opponent’s defence and penetrate through. But, it took 35 minutes for them to break the deadlock, with three of the Spaniard’s getting involved in the goal. Sandro Rodriguez’s long ball was received by Nestor Gordillo near the sidelines.
He made a square run and cleverly played a through towards Pedro Manzi, who made no mistake to net his 14th goal of the season. It took him just 6 minutes to double the lead and increase his tally when he capitalised on a silly mistake made by one of NERCOCA’s defenders. The visitors made it 3-0 by the half time.
But the team totally collapsed in the second, their defence was shattered. Chennai City FC could have easily lost the match, but escaped with a single point after NEROCA FC made it 3-3!
Chennai City FC’s road to the title is quite simple at the present moment. If they manage to win four of their remaining matches, they will be the champions. If they lose points, the fate of the team from South India will depend on the results of other matches.
#2 Pedro Manzi's hat-trick saved Chennai City FC's day
Pedro Manzi has been flaunting his goal-scoring abilities from the first match of the season itself. The important thing is that he has been performing consistently well throughout.
He scored a hat-trick during their match against the Indian Arrows last year and repeated the feat again when Chennai City FC paid a visit to Imphal to play against NEROCA FC. He also netted 3 against Shillong Lajong in December and a hat-trick against Gokulam Kerala in early January.
After a quiet half an hour, the Spanish forward re-ignited. A clever through from compatriot Nestor Gordillo was swiftly slotted home by Pedro Manzi.
The presence of mind was the hallmark of his second goal. A suicidal pass by one of NEROCA’s defenders was intercepted by Pedro, following which he only had the goalkeeper to beat. He made it 2-0!
He completed his hat-trick in the stoppage time of the first half, connecting a well-placed [pass from the flanks.
Pedro Manzi’s goals tally now sums up to 16, just 1 behind the league’s front runner Willis Deon Plaza. The striker has been a vital member of the squad, but the job is not over. There are still four matches left, it will be expected that he delivers at the business end of the I-League to steer his team to a maiden I-League title.
#1 NEROCA FC's unimaginable comeback
The hosts had few chances in the first half, but the team’s attitude turned positive in the second half. A masterstroke from Manuel Fraile was showing effects.
He brought on Felix Chidi following the half-time break. The impact was instant, he scored NEROCA’s opening goal in the 52nd minute. Chencho made it 2-3 in the 68th minute.
The Manipur-based team dictated terms in the second half, while Chennai City FC was on the back foot after a mesmerising first 45 minutes of play. Aryn Williams' long ranger made it 3-3 in the 88th minute.
Another golden opportunity was wasted by the hosts, probably the easiest one which Malemngamba Meetei, the player concerned, missed within the handshaking distance of the goalkeeper.
This was one of the most memorable comebacks in Indian football. This draw will have a huge impact on their title aspirations, as they are now within the reaching distance of both Churchill Brothers FC and East Bengal. Just like the previous year, I-League is set for an exciting finish as it approaches its business end.