Kerala Blasters FC | Photo: PTI
Panaji: Chennaiyin FC handed FC Goa a second defeat on the trot and dealt a massive dent in their playoff qualification hopes in the Indian Super League (ISL) with a 2-1 win at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Thursday.
FC Goa is hanging by a thread in the playoff race now and will play Bengaluru FC next on February 23. A loss for the Gaurs has confirmed playoff qualification for the Blues and Kerala Blasters.
Kwame Karikari bagged a brace as the Gaurs remained in sixth place, level on points with Odisha FC, who can replace them in the final playoff spot if they avoid defeat in Guwahati on Friday.
Ten minutes into the match, it was Chennaiyin FC who drew first blood. Julius Duker rode Edu Bedia's tackle in midfield before sliding an inch-perfect through pass to Vincy Barretto on the left flank. The winger picked out Karikari with a low ball and side-footed it home.
Five minutes after the goal, at the other end of the pitch, Samik Mitra spilt the ball inside a crowded penalty area and Devendra Murgaonkar was the first to react and get his shot away, but it was blocked and eventually cleared to safety. That was one of the shots FC Goa attempted in the first half but went in at the break without anything.
Noah Sadaoui was wreaking havoc down the left flank, getting 22 touches in the final third in the first half. The Moroccan whipped in nine crosses in the first half but none of them resulted in anything substantial. One of those crosses came after Mitra parried Brandon Fernandes' long-range goal-bound freekick into the winger's path. It was headed wide by Bedia.
Four minutes into the second half, Sadaoui brought FC Goa level. Bedia played a long ball out towards the left flank from the midfield. Sadaoui escaped his marker, brought it down and powered it into the net. Minutes later, the Moroccan tried to replicate the move but this time Edwin Vanspaul was alert and thwarted his attempt.
In the 72nd minute, Anirudh Thapa won the race with Dheeraj Moirangthem to reach a loose back pass from Bedia. As Thapa took the ball away from the goal, Dheeraj took the midfielder out and conceded a penalty. Karikari stepped up to take the spot kick and pocketed his second goal of the evening, which turned out to be the winner.
Chennaiyin FC are now within three points of FC Goa. The Marina Machans are out of the playoff race but can finish level on points with the Gaurs at the end of the season. They will finish their ISL season against NorthEast United FC on February 24.