Jeje Lalpekhlua scored a second-half double to help Chennaiyin FC go top of the table by edging past ATK 3-2 in a topsy-turvy Indian Super League (ISL) encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday. After a sedate first half with no goals, five goals were scored in the space of 25 minutes as ATK failed to log a win even after four matches. It was Jeje (65th, 90th minutes) who opened the floodgates but Zequinha (77th) equalised for Inigo Calderon (84th) to reclaim the lead once again. ATK’s Finnish striker Njazi Kuqi (89th) made it 2-2 with the tie in its last legs but there was still time for Jeje — who opened his account for the season with this brace — to net a winner. Chennai now have nine points from four games while ATK have just two from four outings.
The hosts were forced to make one change to the side that beat Pune in the last game, handing Jaime Gavilan — who assisted skipper Henrique Sereno for the solitary goal — his first start of the campaign in place of in-form Raphael Augusto who was surprisingly not even in the 18-man squad. At the other end, Robbie Keane — who coach Teddy Sheringham ruled out the day before the game saying the Irishman is not fit enough to play — replaced Bipin Singh in the 61st minute. ATK ringed in three changes otherwise. Debjit Majumdar returned under the bar in place of Jussi Jaaskelainen while Rupert Nongrum replaced the injured Eugeneson Lyngdoh in midfield. Robin Singh dropped to the bench with Njazi Kuq starting up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
One minute’s silence was observed before kickoff, mourning the death of one of the ground staff. In the first 27 odd minutes, ATK looked to be the likelier of the two sides to take the lead even as play was scrappy. The only talking point in that period was Bipin Singh’s 28th minute cross-shot which was palmed out for a corner by home keeper Karanjit Singh. Zequinha’s flag kick found Hitesh Sharma who flicked the ball for Tom Thorpe but Dhanpal Ganesh intercepted it well. Gavilan then went on a solo run and took a swipe from distance but the former ATK midfielder’s attempt missed the target by a few inches. Bikramjit Singh crossed for Jeje but the ball was too high for the Indian talisman. At halftime, both teams were locked goalless with ATK managing just two shots on target to Chennaiyin’s none. Sheringham replaced captain Jordi Figueras Montel with Asutosh Mehta at centre-back post the breather.
Trying to change the fortunes, Sheringham threw in Keane for his maiden ISL appearance but minutes later, Jeje scored for the hosts. Gavilan got the ball back from Inigo Calderon and swung it in for Sereno whose header came off the woodwork with Jeje prodding home from close range. The game suddenly burst into life as ATK equalised 12 minutes later through Zequinha who fired the ball into the bottom corner after some Njazi Kuqi held off Sereno. With six minutes to go, the hosts made 2-1 albeit riding luck. Inigo’s strike took a deflection off Thorpe to go in with Debjit wrong-footed. Kuqi made it 2-2 with his initial shot being blocked by Karanjit and the tall forward finding the top corner on the rebound. Match over? Not yet. Jeje made the most of ATK keeper Debjit’s clearance to rifle home the winner.