DHAKA, May 16: Chennaiyin FC endured their first AFC Cup defeat after they went down 2-3 to Abahani Limited Dhaka at the Bangabandhu National Stadium here on Wednesday.
After C.K. Vineeth gave Chennaiyin an early lead, Abahani bounced back in the second half by scoring two goals in five minutes. Though Isaac Vanmalsawma restored parity for Chennaiyin soon after, Mamunul Islam's late goal handed the hosts three points. With this result, Abahani draw level with Chennaiyin on seven points from four games. Chennaiyin, however, remain on top on goal difference.
Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory, who signed a new one-year deal with the club last week, made three changes to the side that defeated Abahani 1-0 in Ahmedabad a fortnight back.
Wingers Francisco Fernandes, Isaac Vanmalsawma and striker C.K. Vineeth replaced Thoi Singh, Mohammed Rafi and Jeje Lalpekhlua, respectively.
Chennaiyin got off to a bright start as Laldinliana Renthlei made a surging run down the right flank in the fourth minute, combining with Francisco who was making his first AFC Cup appearance for Chennaiyin. Dinliana got into a promising position but could only find the Abahani keeper with his cross.
Chennaiyin converted their dominance into the opening goal in the sixth minute. Vanmalsawma's corner found Vineeth unmarked at the far post and the Kerala-born striker tapped it in for his first AFC Cup goal of the season, and his fifth overall in the competition.
Chennaiyin continued to press Abahani as Eli Sabia had a goal disallowed shortly after when he turned in Vineeth's flick-on from another Vanmalsawma set-piece.
Abahani troubled Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh for the first time in the 20th minute, when Sunday Chizoba's flick-on to Kervens Belfort found the latter in space. But the Haitian striker's low drive was turned wide by Karanjit for a corner.
With the half-hour mark approaching, Abahani enjoyed a spell of sustained possession. From a set-piece, Chizoba tested Karanjit with a header from close range but the keeper was in the right place at the right time to hold on to the ball.
Chizoba then missed a gilt-edged chance to put his side level. The Nigerian striker's pass for Belfort came back to him courtesy a Chennaiyin block, but Chizoba couldn't keep his composure as he blasted his shot over the bar from close range.
Abahani had another chance a couple of minutes later. Forward Mohammad Nabib managed to find the onrushing Jewel Rana on the right, who'd snuck up on CFC left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala. The Bangladeshi winger though flashed his first-time shot just wide of Karanjit's post.
Having led by the solitary goal at the break, Chennaiyin were quick off the blocks in the second period. Anirudh Thapa was the orchestrator in midfield as he laid up Vanmalsawma at the edge of the box on the break. Vanmalsawma took a touch before curling the ball past the Abahani keeper, only for the shot to strike the crossbar and go over.
Ten minutes into the second half, the game became more end-to-end. Vanmalsawma had moved into a more central role with Anirudh Thapa taking up his position on the left.
At the other end, Abahani continued to get into promising positions. And in the 65th minute, they did find a way past the Chennaiyin backline and Karanjit. A long ball found Belfort in space, who pulled away from Mailson Alves before placing it out of Karanjit's reach to make it 1-1. It was the first goal conceded by Chennaiyin in their debut AFC Cup campaign from six outings, including the qualifying play-off round.
Abahani then went 2-1 up after five minutes, through Masih Saighani's well-taken free- kick from the right. The Afghan defender curled it past Karanjit's reach, his effort going into the goal off the crossbar.
In response, Chennaiyin made their first change of the evening as Thoi Singh replaced Francisco.
And the Manipuri winger made an instant impact as he ran on to Mailson Alves' slightly overhit pass, creating confusion in the Abahani box. Thoi managed to keep his feet before squaring it to Vanmalsawma, who kept his calm and slid it in to make it 2-2.
Karanjit then made a brilliant save in the 84th minute to keep the scores level. The Chennaiyin custodian showed great reflex to keep out Belfort's glancing header from close range.
Abahani were a threat from the long throws through out the evening. And it was from one such chance that they went 3-2 up. The throw-in fell on Mamunul Islam's legs, whose half-volley flew into the top corner. - IANS