Second half goals in quick succession secured Chennaiyin FC’s first win of the group stage in the AFC Cup beating Nepali club Manang Marshyangdi Club. Goals from their foreigners Christopher Herd and Mailson Alves provided the breakthrough for the home team who took the full 3 points from this fixture after they drew their first game against Minerva Punjab 0-0.
Playing their second game in a row at the Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad, their adopted home for this group phase, Chennaiyin made a few changes to their side. Mohammed Rafi started in place of CK Vineeth and Anirudh Thapa started his first game for the club in the AFC Cup.
Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto was left out of the matchday squad entirely, but the team got the desired result.
Chennaiyin had more chances as well to win by a bigger margin, but in the end kept another clean sheet, their sixth in eight games to see out the win.
Coach John Gregory called it a “good, solid, professional performance” and was clearly delighted with the three points.
“I’m delighted with the outcome. We’ve had a tough schedule with everybody playing in matches last week and again tonight,” said Gregory referencing the club’s Super Cup exploits where they lost in the final this past weekend against FC Goa.
He did feel though that his side could have added more goals to their tally, “Would have liked to have won more comfortably, a couple more goals may be. We got a bit casual at 2-0. But give them credit (Manang Marshyangdi), they pushed us all the way.”
Gregory also felt the win was important to send the players away on a happy note as the team now gets a 14-day break with no football matches before the next group fixture against Dhaka Abahani.
“We go into a 2-week break - no ISL, no Super Cup. So it’s good to finish with a win before the break. We will enjoy it, learn from it. To go away from a game tonight with a defeat for 2 weeks would have been the worst feeling. To go away with a win is just briiliant. We get to savour it and recover from a hectic schedule,” added Gregory.
Midfielder Herd who scored the opener was awarded the Man of the Match award, his second in succession.
“Three points is what matters. I can’t win this award without my teammates and their performances and also my coaches. The gaffer’s got us playing the right way. We’ve got good momentum and are playing on the front foot,” said the Aussie post-match after missing out on the Super Cup final through suspension.
Gregory also revealed Augusto's exclusion was more of a precautionary measure considering his recent workload.
Manang coach Chirring L. Gurung regretted the goals given away by his side early in the second half.
“Have to say what we planned we succeeded for 45 minutes. When we started the second half, my players made one mistake and Chennaiyin took the opportunity and scored,” said Gurung.
He also felt his team had defended set-pieces well up until the second goal which came from a Mailson header from a corner.
“Set-pieces, my players didn’t mark him. Even the first goal, we gave too much space and then mistake from my goalkeeper in positioning,” he added.
The other game in Group G between Minerva Punjab and Dhaka Abahani finished 2-2 which meant Chennaiyin’s win takes them top on goal difference despite having the same number of points (4) as Dhaka.
Chennaiyin’s next game is against Dhaka Abahani on the 30th of April in Ahmedabad.