Chennaiyin FC secured their first ever AFC Cup group stage win courtesy a 2-0 scoreline over Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club at The Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad today. Two quickfire second-half goals from Chris Herd and Mailson Alves proved the difference as Chennaiyin went top of Group E, ahead of Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka on goal difference, after the latter’s 2-2 draw with Minerva Punjab earlier in the day.
With Chennaiyin playing their sixth game in 20 days, Head Coach John Gregory made five changes to the starting eleven from the Super Cup final defeat. Mohammed Rafi made his first start of the season, with Jeje Lalpekhlua also returning to the forward line. Germanpreet Singh, Chris Herd and Thoi Singh came into midfield, with Herd having missed the final through suspension.
After a subdued start from both sides, Chennaiyin won a corner in the fifth minute after Laldinliana Renthlei’s hopeful cross was turned away by the Manang keeper. Jeje almost scored from it after Eli Sabia’s mistimed shot found him in the box, but his snapshot deflected just wide.
CFC continued to keep hold of the ball, having spent majority of the first quarter of the game in the Manang box. Rafi then had a half-chance when his shot looped past the far post, after he was found in the box by Renthlei’s low cross.
Rafi had another pop at goal on the half-hour mark. Jerry Lalrinzuala’s cross from the left was flicked first time towards the near post by the Kerala-born striker, only for the keeper to turn it away for yet another CFC corner.
Manang had a rare shot on goal a couple of minutes later. Midfielder Bishal Rai’s meek attempt from outside the box was gathered with ease by Karanjit Singh in the CFC goal.
It just didn’t seem to be coming off for Chennaiyin in front of goal. After some decent build-up, Jeje’s cut-back for the onrushing Germanpreet was skied by the latter under pressure from a defender.
Germanpreet went into the referee’s book soon after for a rough tackle on Manang’s Sujal Shreshtha. The latter was also booked for his reaction.
Manang had a free-kick from a promising position in first-half stoppage time, which Sujal drove straight at Karanjit. It ended goalless at the break with CFC dominating but failing to penetrate in the final third.
The pressure paid off after the restart, with Chennaiyin midfielder Chris Herd finding the back of the net. The 30-year-old Australian played a quick one-two with Rafi before unleashing from the edge of the box; his deflected shot looping past the keeper’s reach. This was Herd’s first goal for the club, having joined in January this year.
Chennaiyin then doubled their lead in as many minutes, from Thapa’s inviting corner kick. CFC skipper Mailson Alves rose the highest to plant a bullet header past the keeper’s reach. This the Brazilian’s third goal of the season in all competitions.
Manang went close few minutes later, when substitute Abhishek Rijal sent a looping header just over the crossbar. The striker had come on moments earlier for Bishal Rai.
Chennaiyin also made their first change of the night when Rafi was replaced by fellow Kerala forward CK Vineeth.
The game became scrappier in the ensuing minutes as CFC made another change. It was like-for-like as Dhanpal Ganesh came on for the goalscorer Herd.
Renthlei then forayed into the Manang box but mulled on it for too long before squaring it out of Jeje’s reach with the goal gaping.
Francisco Fernandes came on for Thoi in the closing stages as Manang tried hard to pull one back. They went extremely close in the 88th minute courtesy Rijal’s acrobatic overhead kick, only for Karanjit to paw it away brilliantly.
Chennaiyin saw out the remainder of the game to notch their first ever AFC Cup victory in the group stages. They welcome Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka in their next encounter on Tuesday 30th April at The Arena Stadium with kick-off at 7:30 PM.