Injury-hit Abahani put up a brilliant fightback to beat Chennaiyin FC 3-2 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday, reigniting their challenge for qualification for the next round of the AFC Cup.
The second victory in four matches took the Sky Blues to seven points, level with Chennaiyin FC, who however lead Group E due to a superior goal difference.
I-League champions Minerva Punjab are in third position with four points while Nepalese outfit Manang Marshyangdi are bottom of the table with two points.
Abahani will play their next against Manang Marshyangdi in Dhaka on June 19.
Needing victory to stay in the race, the Sky Blues looked short of confidence as Portuguese coach Mario Lemos was forced to keep three key players -- Wellington Priori, Atiqur Rahman Fahad and Rubel Miya – out of the squad which played the away match against Chennaiyin FC two weeks ago.
There was also a shuffle in defence, with right-back Raihan Hassan playing as a centre-back and fit-again Saad Uddin playing in right-back position. The shortage of confidence appeared in the movements of the hosts as they conceded the lead in the very sixth minute. The makeshift defence failed to negotiate with a regulation corner-kick from Isaac Vanmalsawma before forward Vineeth drove home from inside the six-yard box.
But Abahani soon started playing better, with Kervens Belfort working hard in attack, keeping the opposition defenders on their toes throughout the first half. The six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions came close to levelling the margin four times, but they were denied either by poor finishing from the strikers or the brilliance of Chennaiyin FC goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
After resumption, Chennaiyin FC counter-attacked quickly in every transition, with Isaac rattling the crossbar before Nabib Newaj Jibon and Sunday Chizoba combined to squander an easy chance on the hour-mark.
Four minutes later, Belfort levelled the margin with a right-footed shot after controlling a long free-kick from Masih Saighani, who then gave Abahani the lead in the 69th minute with a curving free-kick from the right side of the box.
However, the lead lasted only five minutes, thanks to another misunderstanding in the Abahani defence, with Isaac driving home from inside the box.
Abahani came close to restoring their lead in the 84th minute but Karanjit incredibly palmed away a close-range header from Belfort before Mamunul Islam struck the winner with a powerful right-footed drive when a long throw-in from Raihan came his way following a poor clearance from Chennaiyin FC defence.
During the five minutes of stoppage time, the visitors put huge pressure as Abahani went to a defensive shell and goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel had to make a brilliant save to steer Abahani to victory.
“It was a great match for Bangladesh, great match for Abahani. It was 2-2 at one stage and then Mamunul finished brilliantly. The team really put up outstanding performance and the boys showed unbelievable performance,” said a delighted Lemos at the end of the match.
His opposite number, however, was disappointed with the defeat. “It was a disappointing match for me because we took the lead once. The match was 2-2 at one stage and there was no reasons to lose the match. I think the winning goal was incredible and that guy would not be able to score such a goal again,” said Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory.