Despite starting the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 with a defeat, Hyderabad FC fought back with a belligerent force to mount the summit. It remains to be seen if they can tackle Kerala Blasters FC to lift their first title in the league on 20th March at the PJN Stadium, Fatorda.

League stage dominance

The season-opening 1-0 loss at the hands of Chennaiyin FC felt like Hyderabad FC were still far from finding the rhythm. In contrast, the team regrouped and embarked on a memorable eight-match unbeaten run that kept them on top of the league table for the majority of the season.

The streak started with a thumping 3-1 win over defending champions Mumbai City FC who arrived as the favourites of the tournament. The turnaround was headlined by striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and rightly so, for his offensive gameplay taking oppositions by a storm.

Then, Hyderabad FC built on the momentum, overcoming Bengaluru FC (1-0), NorthEast United FC (5-1), and Odisha FC (6-1) – Ogbeche featuring on the scoresheet in all games.

However, the dream run came to a halt when they encountered the Kerala Blasters FC roadblock. With both sides hungry to cement a position on top of the table, the Blasters emerged victorious with an Alvaro Vazquez strike in the 42nd minute. The clash showed glimpses of what we can expect this Sunday - a compact, neck-to-neck encounter going down the wire.

The loss, however, did not bog down the high riders. Hyderabad FC bounced back with two thumping hat-tricks of wins, separated by a loss against ATK Mohun Bagan.

The Ogbeche magic

Ogbeche then became the all-time leading goalscorer in the Hero ISL, going past Sunil Chhetri after his brace against NorthEast United FC. Untouchable by his rivals at the front, Ogbeche has extended his tally of goals to 18 this season, eight clear of Igor Angulo and Greg Stewart.

Thankfully, to Hyderabad FC’s fortune, they had done enough after their 18th match of the season to become the first team to secure a semi-final berth as they defeated Kerala Blasters FC in the reverse fixture.

Also read: Flying full-backs: Akash Mishra, Asish Rai’s cohesive combination fuels Hyderabad FC’s rise to the top

The final corner to League Winners’ Shield

Come to the end of the league stage, Hyderabad FC were rocked with another Covid-19 outbreak in the camp that jolted their chances of lifting the League Winners’ Shield as they fielded a side missing the big names in the deciding clash against Jamshedpur FC which they lost 3-0. Despite the major setback, the team was able to stage a comeback against Mumbai City FC in their final match of the league stage, defeating the Islanders 2-1 as Rohit Danu and Joel Chianese rose to the occasion.

The semi-final story

Their penultimate hurdle in the Hero ISL was ATK Mohun Bagan against whom they failed to register a win this season in the league stage. It felt that the same story will continue when Roy Krishna put the Mariners in the lead in semi-final 2, first leg.

With the stakes as high as they get, Hyderabad FC crawled their way back, again with Ogbeche in the spotlight. Though, it was the young Yasir Mohammad who brought the lead with his first Hero ISL goal and Javier Siverio who sealed a 3-1 win.

The 2nd leg proved more compact and tight with no breathing space at either end of the pitch. Only Roy Krishna, assisted by Liston Colaco, was able to score in the evening which meant Hyderabad FC scampered to the final of the Hero ISL with a 3-2 win on aggregate.

It has been a historic season for Hyderabad FC. They have already broken records and created new ones. Now they find themselves on the brink of glory, as they chase after their first Hero ISL title on Sunday at the PJN Stadium, Fatorda.