Bengaluru FC forward Sunil Chhetri stepped into the limelight, came clutch, and roused the atmosphere at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, on Thursday, as he netted the opener in his side's win against the newly-crowned Hero Indian Super League (ISL) Shield winners Mumbai City FC.

Chhetri has found it hard to carve a place in Bengaluru FC's playing eleven, with head coach Simon Grayson persisting with the prolific duo Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi Narayanan upfront in their recent games. However, Krishna’s absence due to a suspension made way for Chhetri to return to the starting eleven. 

The striker didn’t leave a single stone unturned and marked his first game of 2023 with a stunning headed goal against his favourite opposition, Mumbai City FC. Unmarked inside the box, the skipper rushed near the back post to bury his header in from a Javi Hernandez corner in the 57th minute. With this goal, he registered his eighth goal across 12 games against Mumbai City FC, his highest against a single opposition in the league. 

Javi Hernandez, doubled Bengaluru FC's lead in the 71st minute, before the visitors pulled one back through a Mourtada Fall six minutes later. A crucial seventh straight victory set a new club record for most successive wins in a single season, overtaking their previous winning run of six games in the 2018-19 season. Getting one step closer to their playoff qualification, the Blues also thwarted Mumbai City FC’s dream of going the entire league stage unbeaten.

Chhetri was elated to contribute to his side’s winning streak and explained how it was a hard-earned victory for Bengaluru FC.

“I’m very happy. It wasn’t easy, especially playing against the (league) champions. First of all, congratulations to them for having an outstanding season. It wasn’t easy to keep the momentum we’ve had going, we had won six out of six before this, and to play such a game against the champions especially when we haven’t qualified was difficult. I’m very happy and glad that we could do it,” Chhetri stated in the official post-match interview.

Simon Grayson’s men endured a difficult run in 2022, as the Blues were placed ninth at the end of the year. However, a win against NorthEast United FC in the opening game of 2023 kickstarted a new chapter for the Blues that has seen them achieve new highs. Bengaluru FC need just one point from their penultimate league game against FC Goa to reach the playoffs after a hiatus of two years. 

The 38-year-old was delighted to see the team regain their form while also reviving their hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“It’s a good feeling, especially where we were, seven games back it wasn’t easy, it was difficult. The dressing room wasn’t buzzing which it is right now, so kudos to each and everyone who chipped in, right from the gaffer to the ball boy. We’re very happy that we’ve given ourselves a chance. One step further, we haven’t yet qualified, so we’re just going to go back, rest well, recuperate, and head on to the pitch for the FC Goa game,” Chhetri concluded.