Chennai City FC, I-League leaders, were held to a 3-3 draw by fifth-placed Neroca, blowing the title race wide open on Monday. Chennai had a chance to open a four-point lead to second-placed Real Kashmir FC but the draw sees them lead the league by just two points. Neroca are eight points behind the league leaders with 26 points, two points behind fourth-placed Quess East Bengal, who have played two games less. If the Kolkata club win their two games in hand, they will have the same number of points as Chennai City FC.
Chennai, though, will be kicking themselves after their 3-3 draw to Neroca in Imphal. A Pedro Manzi hat-trick, his fourth of the season, saw the visitors head into half-time holding a 3-0 lead.
But the hosts made a stunning comeback in the second half with Aryn Williams' 88th-minute strike restoring parity and earning Neroca a well-deserved point.
Neroca started the first-half well with left-winger Singham Subhash Singh troubling the Chennai defence with repeated forays down the left flank.
However in the 34th minute, Chennai's three Spanish attackers combined for a wonderfully crafted goal to give the visitors the lead.
Sandro found Nestor Jesus on the left flank with a long ball from just inside their own half. Nestor cut in and from just outside the box noticed Pedro Manzi's run inside the box and played him in.
Manzi swooped in and slid the ball into the net from between keeper Lalit Thapa's legs for his 14th strike of the campaign. Nestor also recorded his sixth assist to go with his six goals.
Neroca fell further behind in the 41st minute as Liberian defender Varney Kallon inexplicably gave the ball away to Manzi with only the keeper in front of him. The striker drove forward, kept his cool and slotted home over the keeper's right shoulder.
Neroca then had a chance to get one back when Malem was in the clear inside the box thanks to another great pass from Aryn Williams, but the midfielder's powerful strike was wonderfully saved by substitute goalkeeper Kabir.
Pedro Manzi then completed his fourth hat-trick of the league in the first minute of added time. Pandiyan broke away on the right and delivered a cross towards the goal and Manzi, ever present at the right place, stuck his left foot out to beat Thapa on the near post.
Neroca, to their credit, came out fighting in the second half and pulled one back early through substitute Felix Chidi.
Chencho played Chidi inside the box from the left in between two defenders. Chidi controlled, rounded the keeper and slid the ball into the empty Chennai net for his sixth goal of the league campaign.
Singham Subash crossed the from the right flank, which was brilliantly headed back by Katsumi towards a lurking Chencho. He controlled and drilled the ball past Kabir. It was his second goal in as many games in his second stint with the I-League after being the star last season.
Neroca finall drew level through Aryn Williams in the 88th minute, denying the visitors a chance to walk away with all the three points.
(With IANS Inputs)