Chennaiyin FC and Odisha’s first clash in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 ended in a 2-2 draw at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Thursday. Nerijus Valskis scored a second half brace for Chennaiyin but Odisha struck back through Xisco Hernandez and Aridane Santana.
The visitors began the game well and dominated possession from the start. Xisco Hernandez looked lively and had Odisha’s first two shots of the match, firing over the crossbar from range once and forcing a save out of the other.
Odisha should have been in front in the 20th minute after a dangerous free-kick by Xisco flashed across Chennaiyin’s six-yard box precariously without anyone in an Odisha shirt managing to get a proper touch. Santana then had a free header from a corner four minutes later but Josep Gombau’s men still couldn’t find the breakthrough as the Spaniard’s header was deflected wide.
The hosts gradually found their way into the game as the half progressed, but Odisha continued to dominate and create chances at will. Nandhakumar Sekar, who was playing against his home-state club, created the visitors’ next chance in the 36th minute. He pulled the ball back for Xisco but the Spaniard skied his effort.
Chennaiyin looked to end the half strongly and it was Edwin Vanspaul who came closest to hitting the target for the two-time champions as he volleyed over the crossbar with an effort from distance. Odisha, though, had an even bigger chance to break the deadlock late in the half when Santana played Jerry Mawihmingthanga through on goal. The Indian winger pulled the trigger from a tight angle but dragged his shot wide as the teams went into the break all square at 0-0.
The home side began the second period by punishing Odisha for their profligacy in front of goal in the first half. Chennaiyin capitalised on a lapse in midfield by Odisha in the 51st minute as Anirudh Thapa picked up the ball and released Thoi Singh on the right for him to square the ball to Valskis, who slotted home his second goal in as many games to make it 1-0 for the hosts.
Their lead didn’t last long though with Odisha striking back after just three minutes. Jerry’s cutback from the right deflected off Chennaiyin’s goalkeeper Vishal Kaith and went straight to Xisco, who made no mistake this time and finished decisively to make it 1-1.
Both sides went in search of a winner after parity was restored and created trouble for the defences. Chennaiyin, though, were still very much on top and regained the lead after Lallianzuala Chhangte earned them a corner in the 71st minute. Valskis was the goal-scorer again and this time it was a brilliant header to the far post from a Dragos Firtulescu corner.
However, Odisha refused to lie down and scored their second equaliser of the match in the 82nd minute after Martin Guedes set up Santana on the edge of the box and the Spaniard produced an exquisite finish to make it all level at 2-2.
Both sides looked for a winner in the closing stages of the contest and pushed men forward into opposition box. The defences, however, did just about enough to earn a point in the end even though Valskis came close to scoring a hat-trick.