The southerners may need a win in their last match against Minerva Punjab to seal the title.

Churchill Brothers played spoilsport as they defeated league leaders Chennai City 3-2 at the Tilak Maidan. The visitors needed a win to seal the I-League trophy. However, they had the lead in the first half with Sandro Rodriguez’s deflected free-kick. Churchill responded quickly via Willis Plaza as the first half ended on level terms. 

Dual strikes from Christ Remi and Plaza in the second half left Chennai City with too much ground to cover even after Pedro Manzi’s spot-kick. 

Here are the talking points from the game:

5. Did Nicholas Fernandes’ heroics fill the void of Dawda Ceesay?

The absence of Dawda Ceesay was going to be a big miss for the home side. Although, they had the likes of Remi and Khalid Aucho controlling the midfield. But, among all the foreign midfielders, it was the experienced local player Nicholas Fernandes who was outstanding right from the start and supported Plaza in attack with aplomb.

Nicholas is known for his pinpoint crosses and dead ball deliveries and on Friday he simply kept the Chennai City defenders at bay. Plaza’s first half equaliser came from his cross as it was perfectly laid into his path across goal. There were numerous instances where Edwin Vanspaul had serious concerns in containing the local lad, as Nicholas was a revelation on the left flank and connected well with the likes of Remi and Plaza on occasions.

4. Was Mauro Boerchio a panic signing for Chennai City?

Chennai City custodian Nauzet Santana suffered a blow against NEROCA FC and was eventually out for the rest of the season. The officials signed former NEROCA goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio to fill the void of Santana. But, Boerchio has been underwhelming for the southerners till now. Akbar Nawas missed a trick here as he could have easily shown trust in Thaufiq Kabir. The young custodian proved himself in the NEROCA game coming up with some exceptional saves to secure a point for his side.

Nawas could have brought in an extra defender to seal things at the back, but decided to go for a foreign goalkeeper. Going for another defender could have been an option, as the southerners have a very porous defence, having conceded 27 goals – highest amongst the top five teams in the league table. It was very evident that the backline is over-dependent on someone like Roberto Eslava, who was sidelined for some time with injury.

3. Why did Chennai City fail to counter the threat of Willis Plaza?

Churchill Brothers were exceptional in the way they executed their plans, as they caught the Chennai City defence napping every time they came up with a counter-attack. Petre Gigiu’s men had a clear plan to allow the visitors to have the lion’s share of possession and attack through the flanks on the counter. Aucho played a huge role in intercepting important passes and starting attacking moves.

Plaza is known for his raw pace and intelligence in the final third and has developed a great understanding with Remi, who managed to sneak in between the opposition defenders. Eslava at times had too much to do on his own, as the Indian defenders struggled with the pace and physicality of both Plaza and Remi and later Anthony Wolfe.


2. Is pressure getting the better of Chennai City?

With the I-League title on the line, one would’ve expected them to play all out for a win against tough opponents away from home. Nawas’ men did just that, but the result did not end in their favour. However, it is clear that they have one of the most porous defences in the league, at least among the top five teams. With this deafeat, it means that everything depends on their last game against Minerva Punjab and nothing less than a win will be enough, unless East Bengal drop points themselves.

The Southerners are known for their swift passing and possession football, with Spanish panache, which was not present in this game. Nawas’ men had possession, but hardly managed to create any moves in the final third. 

1. Is Chennai City’s over-dependence on the Spanish Armada hurting them?

It is obvious that the team is built around the four foreigners who are the main pillars, with the Indian playersplaying mainly as helping hands or in supporting roles. If they need a goal it is either from a Manzi, Nestor Gordillo or a Sandro free-kick. If they need to defend a quick counter-attack it has to be Eslava most of the times.

Against Churchill, when Manzi had an off day he converted the penalty to keep his side in the game. Players like Gaurav Bora, Ajithkumar, Edwin Vanspaul, Romario Jesuraj have been very promising throughout the season. But, none of them have stoodout like Michael Soosairaj, who was a sensation last season all by himself.