With India coach Igor Stimac in attendance, central midfielder Edwin Vanspoul put in solid shift and Chennaiyin FC produced a team effort to beat ATK 3-1 at Salt Lake stadium here on Sunday. Vanspoul’s ability to play full back should also do his bid to be among India probables against Qatar next month no harm.
The performance of Anirudh Thapa, Vanspoul’s defensive midfield partner, full backs Jerry Lalrinzuala and Laldinliana R too would please Stimac.
“The national coach praised Vanspoul. He has quick feet and that is why I use him in central midfield. His energy levels were fantastic and I took him out (in the 88th minute) because he had nothing more to give,” said Chennaiyin FC coach Owen Coyle.
After nine points from eight games, this result took Chennaiyin FC on 25 from 16 and in contention for the remaining play-off berth. The defat all but extinguished ATK’s hopes of an Asian Champions League slot that will go to FC Goa if they draw away to Jamshedpur FC on Wednesday.
ATK stay on 33 points from 17 games and will end the league phase away to Bengaluru FC next Saturday. Leaders FC Goa, on 36 points from 17 games, ATK and Bengaluru FC have qualified for the play-offs.
Not for the first time this season, Arindam Bhattacharja flapped in the air and like a falcon the Maltese Andrea Schembri swooped on Thapa’s corner-kick to put Chennaiyin FC 2-0 ahead in the 39th minute.
ATK’s last home game of 2019-20 was the busiest Bhattacharja has been this term though it was because he was caught near the centre of the field that Nerijus Valskis got a third goal in the 94th minute.
Bhattacharja got big on Lallianzuala Chhangte ensuring Chennaiyin FC couldn’t buttress the margin after moving ahead in the seventh minute through Rafael Crivellaro’s left footer; the midfielder ending a strong run down the middle after Roy Krishna lost possession and Eli Sabia played the Italian through. Sumit Rathi’s back header had Bhattacharja scrambling back to prevent a self-goal in the 32nd minute and one minute later, he had to fling himself to the left to keep out Vanspaul’s effort. Early in the second half, Bhattacharja stopped a Crivellaro drive but Chhangte failed to put the game beyond the home team by firing the rebound wide.
Using a high block, Chennaiyin FC snuffed out ATK’s biggest threat — swift transition. The blue shirts also overloaded the left side where Chhangte’s speed proved a handful.
Unafraid to push men forward — “we knew draws won’t help us so I changed the team to make it more positive,” said Coyle — Chennnaiyin FC pinned ATK in their own half for most of the first 45 minutes.
Assistant-referee Anthony Abraham got two close off-side decisions right, Schembri in the 17th minute and Roy Krishna in the 85th to cancel goals by both teams but by then things had got worse for ATK with Anas Edathodika injured in the 24th minute.
Another try by Vanspaul in the 38th minute produced another save from Bhattacharja. Against the run of play, ATK pulled one back in the 40th minute because Chennaiyin FC goalie Vishal Kaith left his line and Krishna stabbed home a long ball from Xavi Hernandez. Their chances were few and far between but in the 11th minute, Krishna could have neutralised Crivellaro’s goal. Under pressure, the Fijian failed to direct Prabir Das’s delivery. In the 20th minute, Sumit Rathi had moved up but hastened with his shot after Krishna found him in the area.
With David Williams introduced at the start of the second half, ATK looked stronger in attack but couldn’t produce the final ball. In the 89th minute, Kaith collided with Lucian Goian but off-balance Victor Mongil couldn’t slot into an empty goal. Valskis did a little later and that was that.
“They were hungrier to win,” said ATK coach Antonio Lopez Habas after his second home defeat and third of the season.
In 2015, Chennaiyin FC had played ATK off the park in a semi-final winning 3-0 en route a turnaround that took them to the title after they were last with four league rounds to go.
In 10 games under new coach Owen Coyle, Chennaiyin FC have won six, drawn two and lost two. Reason enough for them to hope 2015 can be repeated.
“We play to win every game and even though a draw might suffice against Mumbai FC, we won’t change,” said Coyle.