I-League: Manzi’s late strikes put Chennai City in driver’s seat

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Shillong, Feb 18 (IANS) Pedro Manzi, now the 12th I-League’s joint highest scorer with 18 goals to his credit, scored two and set up another, all in the space of 12 minutes, to help table-toppers Chennai City FC beat Shillong Lajong FC 4-2 in a return leg fixture at the JLN Stadium, here on Monday.

Spaniards Sandro and Nestor scored other two goals, while Kitboklang Pale and Samuel Lyngdoh scored for Shillong.

Chennai consolidated their top spot on the points table with this win. Their tally of 37 points from 17 games take 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 Shillong Lajong’s coach Allison Kharsyntiew started with an unchanged XI.

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The game began with Chennai City FC putting pressure from the first minute. The Spanish duo of Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez, and 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 entered 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.

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Lajong’s efforts finally paid dividends when Kitboklang came up with a clinical finish, after a brilliant through ball from Phrangki in the 23rd minute. The first half came to an end with the scoreline reading 1-1.

In the second half, Lajong was more enterprising and Phrangki 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 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.

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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 goal, but also secured three points for his team as they continue with their march towards a maiden title.

–IANS

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