I'm very proud of what we've been able to do: Mumbai City FC's Des Buckingham
Mumbai City FC head coach was proud of his players after the Islanders lost 9-8 on penalties against Bengaluru FC in the second leg of the semi-final clash in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore on Sunday.
The host came into the second leg with a narrow 1-0 lead. Greg Stewart had to golden chance to bring the visitors back in the tie with a penalty awarded to the Islanders in the eighth minute but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made a brilliant save down to his left to keep the score at 0-0. Javi Hernandez was on hand to head Sivasakthi Narayanan's cross past Phurba Lachenpa in the 22nd minute to give the Blues a 2-0 lead on the aggregate.
The League Shield winners piled on the pressure and it finally paid off with Bipin Singh equalizing in the 31st minute to bring the visitors back into the match. Both teams were able to break through on multiple occasions but brilliant displays from the goalkeepers at either end kept the score at 1-1 only for Mehtab Singh to head past Sandhu and put the Islanders in front on the night and make it 2-2 on aggregate. Eventually, it was Mehtab Singh's missed penalty in the shootout which proved costly for the Islanders with Sandhu making the crucial save and Sandesh Jhingan scoring to send Bengaluru FC into the finals.
Mumbai City FC wrapped their Hero ISL season with the League Winners' Shield and numerous records to their name. Buckingham expressed pride in how the team performed since the last year by showcasing the type of football they wanted to play at this stage and winning the league after the 18-match unbeaten run.
We gave it our all and left everything on the pitch but it wasn't to be. #AamchiCity is proud of each one of you 💙#BFCMCFC #MumbaiCity 🔵 pic.twitter.com/gkvBt88iXf— Mumbai City FC (@MumbaiCityFC) March 12, 2023
"I'm very proud of what we've been able to do. I look back across the last 10 to 12 months, we started in the Champions League and what we're able to do. Not just in terms of results, but in terms of performance and showcasing the type of football we wanted to play on this stage. And then we look at the Durand Cup final and then I look at the 18-game unbeaten streak that won us the league," Buckingham said in the post-match conference.
The two-legged semi-final clash brought everything that is there to offer. The first leg was a cagey affair, meanwhile, the second leg brought everyone to the edge of their seats with the penalty shootout. Buckingham stated how it was a heartbreaking way to exit the playoffs stage but backed the team to build on what they have and make a comeback.
"We thought we had enough to come here and we did what we needed to do. They won at our place, and we've now come here and beat them at theirs but it wasn't enough and it went to the penalties. It's a bit of a heartbreaking way to exit the playoff stage. But overall when you put it over the last 10 to 12 months, very proud of what we've been able to do and that includes the season, but more so how we've gone about playing to do that and also achieving success. So we'll be back, build upon what we have, and be ready," he added.
It was a roller-coaster of emotions for the young centre-back Mehtab Singh, the 24-year-old who scored the second goal of the night for the Islanders to send the match into penalties but it was his miss in the ninth attempt that allowed Bengaluru FC secure their ticket to the final. Mumbai City FC head coach heaped praise for the youngster while labelling him one of the best young centre-backs and said the team will back him to help him get through the disappointing miss.
"Mehtab knows what I think about him, firstly as a player and secondly as a person. The way he came on in my first 12 months of this club and developed himself and the way he's gone about what he's done this year, has been fantastic to see the growth in him as a person, see the growth in him as a player and across the league, for me, he's probably one of the best young Indian centre backs coming through. He'll be disappointed tonight and he'll feel that there's some fault on him but there isn't. He knows exactly what the group think about him and we'll get around him and look after him. And when he reflects back upon his season, he'll realize if he doesn't already how extremely well he has done," he said.
It was a season of new heights for Mumbai City FC with the Islanders claiming new records to their name by scoring the most number of goals in a single Hero ISL season or having the longest-ever unbeaten run in the competition. Buckingham shed light on how the team took learnings from the fixture against Chennaiyin FC and how the team needs to continue to believe in what they do.
"We've spoken all season about learning as a group, and as we reflected before the game on some of the learnings we've taken from the season. And when I look back at some of the lessons that we learned, one struck me against Chennaiyin FC away. We were two-nil down and there are things that can happen with that and the same happened tonight's game and then the game can go two ways," Buckingham commented.
"The learnings from the Chennaiyin FC game was to stick to what we trust what we do and trust what you're capable of doing and that was the message again at half-time. If we hadn't created or played very well in the first half, it would have been a concern. We've got a way of doing things and you know it that you're very good at doing it. We tweaked a couple of things, we needed to get a little bit better but the lessons we very much to believe in what you do. And we've shown that if we do that over a period of time with Chennaiyin FC being an example and the second half today, we've got ourselves in very strong positions," he concluded.