Bengaluru FC were touted by many as one of the favourites to win the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) ahead of the 2022-23 season. The reasons behind this notion were plenty.

The Blues were fresh from a triumph in the Durand Cup. Before the start of the season, they signed proven Hero ISL players Roy Krishna, Javi Hernandez, Sandesh Jhingan and Prabir Das to add to the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Roshan Naorem and Udanta Singh in their squad.

Youngsters like Sivasakthi were making their presence felt, and the Blues were finally going to play in front of their home fans at the Sree Kanteerava stadium, a place where Bengaluru FC have found ways to conjure up magic more often than not.

But as the season progressed, all the pre-season optimism evaporated as the Blues struggled to put in the performances expected of their new-look team. Eventually, the results suffered, and Chhetri and co found themselves hanging onto their slim hopes of reaching the playoffs. Head coach Simon Grayson chopped and changed the system and personnel to create the best team from their array of talented stars, but often fell short.

However, as Bengaluru FC approach their last chance saloon, Grayson seems to have finally zeroed in on his best eleven. The Blues have won three on the spin and reignited their playoff hopes. The Englishman has had to make tough calls, including dropping Chhetri, but has now found a unit that is beginning to click, probably just at the right time.

At the heart of this recent upturn in fortunes is a pair that has found their best form in each other’s company. Forwards Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi Narayanan may be at opposite spectrums in terms of career achievements and experience, but they have complemented each other perfectly.

“Young Sivasakthi and Roy Krishna have started scoring at the right time, and that combination between the two is good,” Hero ISL commentator and former player Darren Caldeira notes.

“They are always looking out for each other on the pitch, and their movement is great as well. Together, they are producing the quality that Bengaluru FC would have wanted at the start of the season. Their form, along with Javi Herandez, who chips in with assists, are going to be massive if they want to make the top six,” he adds.

The two forwards have each netted twice in the last three matches, which has seen Bengaluru FC truly unlock their attacking potential. The Blues scored eight goals in the last three games, exactly the number of goals they managed in their first 12 matches this season.

Once again, Krishna looks like the striker that set the Hero ISL on fire during his days in Kolkata, which is down to his understanding with strike partner Sivasakthi.

“Replacing Sunil Chhetri with Sivasakthi has proven to be a bit of a masterstroke. Roy Krishna's game is now coming to fruition not because Chhetri is left out but because of the pressure of playing with Chhetri is gone. It can make you almost bow down to that legendary status and I feel Krishna had lost his game,” former FC Pune City and Hyderabad FC head coach Phil Brown notes.

“Playing with Siva, who is making instinctive runs like young players do and has great energy levels, Krishna is tucking under his wing and doing the damage. Bengaluru FC could benefit from this partnership, especially with Chhetri coming off the bench to support late on in matches,” he adds.

Bengaluru FC will host Chennaiyin FC in their next match, and they need not look any further than their next opponents for inspiration. The Marina Machans scripted a late comeback in the 2019-20 season to reach the Hero ISL final after a sluggish start to the season.

Gaining momentum at the right time is critical in the Hero ISL, and history vouches for it. Jamshedpur FC, too, went on a great run of form at the business end of last season to win the League Winners’ Shield.

“Bengaluru FC is a team I look at and think this is a team that could get on a good run. They are already on it, having won three matches in a row, and can get into the playoffs and finish on a real high,” Brown says.

The Blues have the pedigree in this league, and it’s going to be about the big players stepping up during the remaining crunch matches. Bengaluru FC could make a late tilt at the playoffs, and one can’t look beyond the blossoming partnership between Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi to be one of the most crucial factors if they succeed.