Chennaiyin FC and Minerva Punjab settled for a 0-0 draw in an all-Indian AFC Cup group stage match at The Arena stadium in Chennai on Wednesday.
This was the maiden appearance of both the clubs in the group stage of the continental competition. It was also Chennaiyin’s fourth successive clean sheet in all competitions.
Head coach John Gregory made three changes to the Chennaiyin starting line-up which beat Mumbai City FC 2-0 in the Super Cup last week. Anirudh Thapa, Isaac Vanmalsawma and Gregory Nelson made way for Thoi Singh, Halicharan Narzary and Raphael Augusto.
For Minerva Punjab, all three of their new signings, forward Samuel Lalmuanpuia and defenders Kareem Nurain and Robert Primus, started from the outset.
After a slow opening few minutes, Chennaiyin grew into the match with a succession of quick chances. The first fell to Jeje Lalpekhlua in the Minerva box, but the striker’s shot was deflected for a corner. The resulting set-piece saw a wayward header by Chennaiyin’s Brazilian centre-back Eli Sabia.
A minute later, C.K. Vineeth outmuscled Minerva skipper Mahmoud Al-Amna in the middle of the park and freed Thoi Singh on the right flank. The Manipuri winger found Jeje in the box, who set it up for Raphael Augusto whose shot sailed over the crossbar.
Minerva then tested Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh from a distance in the 25th minute. But Ghanaian midfielder Kalif Alhassan’s shot was parried away by Karanjit.
A few minutes later, Samuel stung Karanjit’s gloves with another shot from the distance after the ball fell to him from a Chennaiyin clearance. Alhassan’s header from the ensuing corner hit the upright and went out for a goal-kick.
Both sides continued to create inroads as the half progressed, but the play in the final third lacked precision as it remained goalless at the break.
Minerva made a change soon after the restart with Moinuddin replacing Prabhjot Singh while Chennaiyin brought on Anirudh Thapa in place of Halicharan.
The first big chance of the second half fell Chennaiyin’s way on the hour mark when Thoi’s header from a Tondonba cross went agonisingly wide of the far post.
Minerva then made their second change with a quarter of the game to go when Makan Chothe was replaced by Akash Sangwan. Chennaiyin had a sustained spell of pressure in the ensuing minutes over their opponents.
Vineeth took a couple of shots from the distance but to no avail. Soon after, Thapa led a break for Chennaiyin and spread the ball wide to Thoi, who charged into the box and fired in a low cross that was headed away nicely by Kareem.
Thapa put in an energetic cameo performance, leading the charge for Chennaiyin in the final third. Chennaiyin continued to knock on the Minerva door in the closing minutes with Thapa central to their cause, but the visitors held on for a goalless stalemate.
In the group’s other match played earlier in the day, Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka beat Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi 1-0 away from home.