Bengaluru FC notched a historic tenth consecutive win with a 1-0 triumph against Mumbai City FC in the first leg of their Indian Super League semifinal, at the Mumbai Football Arena, on Tuesday. Skipper Sunil Chhetri came off the bench to once again score once against the Islanders as his header proved to be the difference in an end-to-end encounter.
Earlier, The Blues started with an unchanged squad from the last game with Sandesh Jhingan, Aleksandar Jovanovic and Bruno Ramires playing in a back three and the familiar duo of Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi leading the line.
The home side started strongly and came close within the first minute, when Rahul Bheke sent a low cross in from the right, but Prabir Das was alert to the danger and put the ball out for a corner. In the 7th minute, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy found himself at the end of a pass from Ahmed Jahouh, but his attempted volley went narrowly wide.
It was Vignesh who turned provider in the 12th minute, when he bent a cross into the box, which was met by Greg Stewart who steered it goalward, but Blues goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was sharp to dive to his left and deny the Scotsman’s header to squeeze past his near post.
Bengaluru slowly got into the groove and looked comfortable playing on the counter. Roshan fashioned the first chance for Simon Grayson’s side when he looked to find Roy Krishna in the box, but his attempted cross, albeit not finding its intended target, flew just over Phurba Lachenpa’s goal, leaving the Mumbai ’keeper in a spot of bother.
Des Buckingham’s men pushed for the opener and they came to scoring in the 39th minute. Stewart found himself in space and set Jorge Pereyra Diaz behind the Blues’ backline, but Gurpreet was quick to get off his spot and deny the Argentine a shot on goal.
Roshan was the chief source of threat for the Blues and the wing-back found space on the left and unleashed a shot that was parried away by Lachenpa. Both teams created plenty of chances to get the opening goal, but neither was able to convert them as the first half came to a close with the score 0-0.
Into the second period, both teams started in the same way as the first with Mumbai looking to dominate possession, while Bengaluru looked to beat the Islanders for pace and get in behind.
The Blues were the first to go to their bench, with Grayson bringing on skipper Sunil Chhetri on for Sivasakthi in the 57th minute, to inject some energy and pace into the attack.
The substitution almost paid dividends just past the hour mark, as Chhetri set Javi up for a shot. But, the Spaniard’s headed first touch took him wide of goal and his eventual shot was saved by Lachenpa.
With the Blues getting more and more into the game and posing a genuine threat. Buckingham, with the aim to refresh his side’s approach, brought on midfielder Alberto Noguera to replace Jahouh in the 68th minute and Vikram Pratap Singh for Bipin Singh in the 75th minute.
The changes and the sustained phase of possession paid dividends for Grayson’s men, as the Blues took the lead through Chhetri in the 79th minute. The skipper snuck into the box, unmarked, and headed home from point blank range following a corner from Roshan.
Having gone behind, the home side found numerous opportunities to get an equalizer. It was Stewart who once again came the closest of all Mumbai players when his free kick flew agonizingly over the crossbar. Grayson made a final move to run down the clock as he brought Udanta Singh and Parag Shrivas on for Roy Krishna and Roshan.
The missed chances from Mumbai and stoic defending from the Blues helped Grayson’s men notch a crucial away win and bring a lead back to the Kanteerava Stadium. The Blues will face the Islanders in the second leg on Sunday, 12 February 2023.