From not scoring even once in two home games, ATK found themselves 2-0 ahead inside the opening 15 minutes for the first time this season. It led them to their first win at home, Chennaiyin falling to their fourth defeat after the 1-2 loss at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Friday.
ATK’s first came through Kalu Uche when the striker got in between two of Chennaiyin’s centre-backs to romp home a Gerson Vieira header and by the time John Johnson had thundered one on the low right-corner, ATK could have scored thrice.
For the second time in 11 minutes, Uche sneaked in-between Inigo Calderon and Eli Sabia – the centre-back pair that made its debut in the goalless draw against Delhi Dynamos on Tuesday – but his shot from a Manuel Lanzarote through ball was straight at Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
Two minutes later the home side added their second through a Johnson header after Komal Thatal was fouled outside the Chennaiyin box. Lanzarote stood up and from his curled effort the Englishman scored his first goal of the season.
But ATK has been prone to conceding from crosses and therefore it was a no-brainer when Carlos Salom, withstanding the challenge from Johnson and Vieria, pounced on a cross from Francisco Fernandes to pull one back for the visitors with a bullet back header.
He was close again in the 55th and 61st minutes and could have easily levelled the scores for Chennayin but failed to keep his efforts on target. The first came after Johnson failed to clear a long ball, which left Salom with only ATK goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya to beat. But the Argentina-born Palestine footballer fired wide from close range, while also failing to place his header on target six minutes later.
And so a game that promised so much more for Chennaiyin ended up with their fourth defeat in five seasons and an impending danger of matching ATK for the worst defending champions’ campaign in ISL 5. They had 18 shots and almost double the possession of ATK, but could account for just one goal in 90 minutes from disappointingly three shots on target. They are currently placed ninth with just one point from five matches – the same position then champions ATK finished last season.
ATK on the other took a back seat immediately after scoring twice within 10 minutes of each other and from there the only time they came close to scoring was through Lanzarote, who remains the heart and lynchpin of this steadily improving team.
Balwant Singh had the best chance for the home team to settle the game for his side after a clever variation from a Lanzarote set-piece, saw the former Chennaiyin man, go one-on-one with rival custodian Karanjit Singh, but the striker – now playing on the left midfield – fired straight at the goalkeeper.
Jayesh Rane then had his Neymar moment when he slipped his way into the Chennaiyin box dribbling past two opposition defenders but Uche failed to place his shot on target after Rane found him inside the box.
ATK though were fortunate not to concede late because had Gregory Nelson’s open header not been acrobatically saved by Arindam, Chennayin could have returned with at least a point.
But the defenders, powered by two spectacular saves from Arindam, held on to the victory to move to fourth in the table, on par with Bengaluru and Goa on points (7) but below on goal difference (-1) having played a match more. NorthEast United continue to rain on top with eight points from four matches.