Road to Goa: Rising from the ashes, Bengaluru FC scripted a turnaround for the ages
Bengaluru FC’s Hero Indian Super League (ISL) campaign this season has produced one of the most incredible turnarounds in Indian football. They may not have played swashbuckling football, but have been effective with every passing game.
The Blues, who were struggling at the bottom half of the table with only ten points after twelve games, went on to finish fourth in the Hero ISL standings with 34 points from 20 games. In the knockouts, they knocked out Kerala Blasters FC to confirm a semi-final berth after two seasons. Simon Grayson’s side came out victorious in dramatic fashion against the League Shield Winners’ Mumbai City FC in their penultimate hurdle to see themselves through to their third Hero ISL final.
As the Blues prepare to take on ATK Mohun Bagan for the coveted Hero ISL trophy, let’s take a look at just how they got there and who suffered at their hands along the way.
Sloppy start to the campaign
After failing to attain a semi-final spot for two consecutive seasons, Bengaluru FC had their aim firmly set on a return to the top of the Hero ISL after being triumphant in the Durand Cup earlier in the season.
The Blues began their campaign in good stead with a win over NorthEast United FC in the opening game and a draw against Chennaiyin FC in the following game. But to everyone’s dismay, Grayson’s side lost 1-0 to Hyderabad FC, 1-0 to Odisha FC, 1-0 to East Bengal, and 4-0 to Mumbai City FC, in a series of disappointing results. This was only the second time that BFC had to incur the miserable feat of four consecutive defeats in Hero ISL.
A dramatic stoppage-time winner against NorthEast United FC
Bengaluru FC were languishing in the bottom half of the Hero ISL table with only ten points from twelve games and the reason behind their abysmal form was still unknown. After splashing around for most of the season, Grayson switched to back three and seemed to find the right elements when they visited NorthEast United FC for the reverse fixture in Matchweek 14.
After a goalless opening 45 minutes, the visitors switched gears and went up front through a stunning strike from Sivasakthi Narayanan five minutes into the second half. However, Romain Philippoteaux equalized for the Highlanders 16 minutes later from a free-kick just outside the box.
Just when it looked like Bengaluru FC would carry on their woeful run of results, Brazilian defender Alan Costa rose onto the occasion and scored a header in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure all three points for his side.
And there was no looking back for Grayson’s side thereafter as they went on to enjoy a 10-game winning streak.
First victory against ATK Mohun Bagan
The hosts, ATK Mohun Bagan had a fair share of possession in the opening half as both sides went into the locker room with decent goalscoring opportunities.
Javi Hernandez scored the opening goal in the 78th minute before Roy Krishna added his name to the scoresheet in stoppage time. Dimitri Petratos reduced the deficit in the dying moments for ATKMB but it was not enough to put an end to Bengaluru FC’s winning run.
It was the Blues’ first-ever victory over ATK Mohun Bagan in the Hero ISL and their fifth on the trot.
Denting Mumbai City FC’s ‘Invincibles’ Hope
Bengaluru FC were riding on a wave of confidence as they hosted the recently crowned League Shield Winners, Mumbai City FC with revenge in mind.
Despite the visiting side starting the game fiercely and displaying a strong attacking intent, it was Sunil Chhetri who drew first blood from a corner in the second half. The hosts doubled their lead through Javi before Mourtada Fall pulled one back for the visitors. The Islanders continued to push for the equaliser but the Blues held onto their lead and pulled off an impeccable victory.
The victory saw them snapping MCFC’s 18-game unbeaten streak and also denying them from the tag of ‘Invincibles’.
The knockout story
Bengaluru FC locked horns with arch-rivals Kerala Blasters FC in the new knockout stage of the Hero ISL as the Blues came into this encounter on the back of eight straight wins.
The Blasters dominated possession from the opening minute but failed to create any clear-cut goalscoring opportunities. Grayson’s side was content to sit back and play on the counter.
The plan to not concede a goal went successful for both coaches as the game headed towards the extra time, where the game started picking up momentum.
In the seventh minute of the first half of extra time, skipper Chhetri spotted the opening when he found the back of the net from a quick free-kick. KBFC forfeited the game in disagreement with the decision of the goal from the free-kick and a win was awarded to Bengaluru FC.
Ticket to the Finale
If there was one thing that was clear about BFC’s journey in the Hero ISL 2022-23 campaign, it’s that they’ve always liked a touch of drama. Heading into their semi-final clash with Mumbai City FC, questions were raised about whether Bengaluru FC would be able to maintain its winning streak.
In the first leg, the Islanders dominated the proceedings and created many significant chances, but were kept at bay by a solid defensive display by the Blues. Near the hour mark, Grayson introduced Chhetri who quite simply took charge of the game. BFC started creating more potent chances in his presence and the veteran striker, as could be expected, gave his side a crucial one-goal lead in the first leg.
Trailing by a goal, Des Buckingham’s side started the second leg on the front foot but BFC ‘keeper Sandhu denied Greg Stewart from the spot kick inside the opening ten minutes. The Blues reacted strongly and went further ahead in the tie through Hernandez, before Bipin Singh and Mehtab Singh drew the Islanders level on aggregate.
The tie went into the penalty shootout and after 16 penalties were scored, Sandhu emerged as the hero once again saving Mehtab Singh’s penalty before Sandesh Jhingan buried the winning spot-kick into the right bottom corner to give the Blues a 9-8 win on penalties and a place in the Hero ISL final.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Bengaluru FC and now they find themselves on the brink of glory, as they chase their second Hero ISL title on Saturday at the PJN Stadium, Fatorda.