Chennai City FC survived a late fight back from North Eastern Re-Organising Cultural Association (NEROCA) Football Club to win their final match of the I-League season 2-1 at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan on Thursday.
Mohamed Iqbal's (90+4 mins) late strike in added time of the second half proved to be the difference between the two sides as Demir Avdic's (24 mins) first-half goal was cancelled out by Romtan Singh (90 mins) in the second half.
With NEROCA already relegated, it was clear in the opening minutes of the match that Chennai had the extra edge to take home the win as they attacked from the opening minute. In the 11th minute, Chennai were handed a penalty as a defensive error prompted the referee to point to the spot. However, NEROCA survived as Syed Suhail Pasha's poor penalty was easily saved by goalkeeper Rahul Yadav.
Chennai's momentum eventually proved too much to handle for NEROCA and their defence gave away in the 24th minute. Demir Avdic beat the offside trap and took his time in front of the goal before smashing the ball home.
NEROCA found it hard to gain any momentum. Passes were misplaced and it looked like the Gift Raikhan-coached side lacked the motivation to compete for a win in their final match of the season.
Chennai, meanwhile, dominated possession and shut NEROCA off. So much so that in the entire half, NEROCA could not create one clear goal-scoring chance. The half-time scoreline read 1-0 in Chennai's favour.
Raikhan made a tactical substitution in the second half with the inclusion of Subash Singh Singam in the attack. This caused NEROCA to play much better in the final third, where they started to find their targets. In the 57th minute, a well-weighted through ball found Subash inside the box. The substitute tried to control the ball before releasing his effort, but his first touch let him down as the ball was robbed off him.
Two minutes later, on the other end, substitute Vijay Thomas came agonisingly close to doubling Chennai's lead as his shot from outside the box went inches wide of the opposition goal.
In the 72nd minute, Mohammed Iqbal had a perfect chance to swell Chennai's lead but the winger's attempt from inside the box, after a cut-back from the left-wing, went straight down the goalkeeper's throat. Five minutes later, Demir Avdic missed a sitter from point-blank range.
The best opportunity to equalise fell to Subash in the 87th minute when he burst onto the goal after a lovely one-two. He, however, failed to even hit the target.
NEROCA equalised in the 90th minute when Romtan Singh bundled home from close range. With the scoreline reading 1-1 and less than four minutes left to go, it seemed like the match would end in a draw.
However, Singaporean winger Mohamed Iqbal had other plans. His rocket of a strike in added time crashed against the back of the net and proved to be the decisive goal as Chennai registered a remarkable 2-1 win, surviving a late comeback by NEROCA.
With this win, Chennai City FC finished their I-League campaign with 15 points, inclusive of five wins and nine defeats, from their 14 matches. Relegated NEROCA finished the campaign at the bottom of the table with just eight points from 14 matches.