Chennaiyin edge past Abahani to consolidate top spot in Group E
Chennaiyin FC moved another step closer to sealing their progression beyond the group stages of AFC Cup 2019 with a well-worked 1-0 victory over Bangladeshi club Abahani Dhaka at The Arena by TransStadia in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. Anirudh Thapa's attempted cross took a deflection off Abahani defender Wellington Priori and ended up inside the net on the 79th minute. The goal ended up being the difference between the two sides on the night.
The victory helped Chennaiyin move three points clear of Abahani at the top of Group E, which makes them firm favourites to progress to the knockout stages of the continental tournament. Chennaiyin currently have 7 points from three matches while Abahani have 4 after playing the same number of matches. The other two teams in the group - India's Minerva Punjab FC (2 points from two matches) and Nepal's Manang Marshyangdi (0 points from two matches) - are due to face off on Wednesday evening.
Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory opted to bring back Dhanpal Ganesh into the starting line-up after resting the midfield enforcer in the previous match against Manang. An eventful first half saw both sides create plenty of scoring opportunities, with Mailson Alves coming the closest. The Brazilian centre back got on the end of an Anirudh Thapa free kick and tested Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam with a powerful header, but the Bangladeshi club's skipper did well to bail out his side.
Striker Sunday Nwadialu found himself at the end of a couple of half chances for the visitors but couldn't quite make them count as the first 45 minutes ended 0-0.
The second half was an edgier affair with open chances few and far between. Minutes after the hour-mark, Gregory brought on CK Vineeth in place of Jeje Lalpekhlua and then swapped in Isaac Vanmalsawma in place of Mohammed Rafi.
The tweaks added some pace to the Chennaiyin offence and yielded immediate results. Isaac played in a long ball to find Thapa, who did brilliantly to turn his man and get to the touchline. The 21-year-old followed it up with a cross inside the box, which was deflected into the net by Abahani defender Wellington Priori. Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) fans will be familiar with Priori, who has played for NorthEast United FC and Jamshedpur FC in the past. The Brazilian currently plays in Bangladesh for Abahani.
After taking the lead on the 79th minute, the two-time Hero ISL champions showed excellent game management to see off the rest of the match without too much trouble.