Chennaiyin suffer first AFC Cup 2019 loss against Abahani Dhaka
An old adversary came back to haunt Chennaiyin FC as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline in their fourth AFC Cup 2019 group stage match against Abahani Dhaka. It was the first taste of defeat for John Gregory and Co. in their Asian campaign this season. CK Vineeth gave Chennaiyin the lead in the first half, but a second half goal by Abahani's Kervens Belfort, who played for Chennaiyin’s arch-rivals Kerala Blasters FC in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2016, triggered a comeback for the home side at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Bangladesh on Wednesday. Masih Saighani scored soon after to give Abahani the lead only for Isaac Vanmalsawma to score an equaliser on the 73rd minute. But an 88th minute strike from Mamunul Islam eventually turned out to be the difference between the two sides on the night.
Despite the loss, Chennaiyin stay top of Group E with seven points from four matches. Abahani have the same number of points but possess an inferior goal difference compared to the two-time Hero ISL champions.
John Gregory opted to start the match with Vineeth as the lone striker up front, as Jeje Lalpekhlua, who started Chennaiyin's last match against Abahani in Ahmedabad, dropped down to the bench. Isaac, too, was rewarded with a start after his cameo against the same opponents last month helped turn the tie in Chennaiyin's favour.
The Indian side started the match positively and reaped the reward almost instantly. Following the first corner of the tie on the 6th minute, Isaac found Vineeth inside the Abahani box and the veteran striker converted the chance to give the visitors an early lead.
The home team tried to react positively and started mounting relentless attacks in a bid to restore parity but the Chennaiyin backline, led by captain Mailson Alves, held its shape to frustrate the home team. The first half ended with Chennaiyin one goal to the good.
Minutes after the restart, Chennaiyin almost doubled their lead as the lively Anirudh Thapa set up Isaac for a crack at goal. The 22-year-old's effort, however, was just off and ended up rattling the crossbar.
Abahani took full advantage and raced into the lead after two quickfire goals. Belfort equalised for the Dhaka-based side on the 64th minute and Masih converted a free kick four minutes later to hand Abahani the advantage.
The change in momentum prompted Gregory to bring on Thoi Singh in place of Francisco Fernandes on the 70th minute. It took Thoi just three minutes to justify the swap as the speedy winger showed brilliant feet to get inside the Abahani box and laid off the ball for Isaac to finish. With the scoreline reading 2-2, the match was set for a tense finish.
It was the home team who would eventually go on to seize the initiative. Midfielder Mamunul cropped up from the right and buried his shot past Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh on the 88th minute. The home side managed to hold on to claim the win despite Chennaiyin's best attempts to find an equaliser.