Leaders Chennai City FC were held by Neroca FC to a thrilling 3-3 draw to open up the I-League title race wide open on Monday.
In the first half, Chennai City fired in three goals through Pedro Manzi (34th minute, 41st, 45+1) who scored his fourth hat-trick of the season.
In the second half, Neroca FC came back strongly through Felix Chidi (52nd), followed by a goal each from Chencho and Aryn Williams in the 68th and the first minute of the added time respectively.
The match ended in a draw. Chennai City still hold the pole position with 32 points from 16 matches. With 26 points from 17 matches, Neroca FC are now placed fifth in the points table.
The initial stage of the match was dominated by Neroca Singam Subhash Singh troubling the Chennai defense with repeated attacks down the left flank and channel.
A wonderful ball from Aryn Williams found Chencho through and the Bhutanese sniper rounded the goalkeeper in the 26th minute but failed.
In the 34th minute, Chennai’s three Spanish attackers combined for yet another beautifully strategized goal to give the visitors the lead.
On the left flank, Sandro found Nestor Jesus on with a long ball from just inside their own half.
Nestor cut in and noticed from outside the box, Pedro Manzi’s run inside the box. Nestor recorded their sixth assist played him in.
Manzi dived right in and with a left-footed jab, slid the ball into the net from between keeper Lalit Thapa’s legs for his 14th strike of the season. Nestor also recorded his sixth assist to go with his six goals.
In the 41st minute, Neroca’s Varney Kallon gave the ball away to Manzi with only the keeper to beat. The striker drove forward, kept his cool and slotted home over the keeper’s right shoulder.
Then, Neroca had a glorious chance to get one back after Malem was clearly inside the box courtesy of another great Aryn Williams ball. However, the midfielder’s powerful strike towards goal was saved wonderfully by substitute keeper Kabir.
Manzi completed his fourth hat-trick of the league in the first minute of the first half added time. Pandiyan broke away on the right and delivered a cross towards the goal and Manzi, ever present at the right place, struck his left foot out to beat Thapa on the near post.
It seemed as though Neroca were not going down without fighting. This was evident when they struck early in the second half through substitute Chidi.
Chencho and Chidi played inside the box from the left in between two defenders. Chidi controlled, rounded the keeper and drifted the ball with his left boot into the empty Chennai net. That marked his sixth goal of the league campaign.
Aryn Williams again initiated a wonderful move from the right which saw Chidi’s header just go wide of the goal. By building pressure now and after two successive corners, they got their second through Chencho.
Kaysumi excellently headed back Singham Subash’s cross from the right flank towards a lurking Chencho. He drilled the ball past Kabir for his second goal in the I-League after being the star last season.
Kabir bought up an excellent save to deny the hosts. Singham, on the other hand, missed the chance to draw level after he was one on one with Kabir.
When Chennai seemed to have pushed through the game for a win, Neroca leveled the proceedings. It was Aryn Williams who scored in the additional time (91’) to bring the score to 3-3.
3⃣?finishes by @NerocaFC earn them 1⃣point against leaders.
— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) February 11, 2019