It was agony for Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava stadium as Chennaiyin FC clinched their second Indian Super League (ISL) title with a 3-2 win in the finals on Saturday night. In a match veyr much befitting the occasion of a final, defender Mailson Alves sored a brace (17'and 45') while Raphael Augusto scored the third goal (67') for Chennaiyin. Earlier, Bengaluru skipper Sunil Chhetri had the given the Blues the lead in the ninth minute while Miku struck in injury time (90+1) to make it a nervy finish for John Gregory's men.
Albert Roca replaced the suspended Subashish Bose with Lenny Rodrigues in the lineup and went into the game with three defenders at the back. Juanan, Johnson and Erik Paartalu formed the three at the back with Bheke and Haokip performing the role of wingbacks. Skipper Sunil Chhetri and Udanta started either side of Venezuelan forward Miku up top.
John Gregory went into the final with an unchanged lineup after their terrific 4-1 aggregate victory over FC Goa in the semi-final. Jeje Lalpekhlua, who returned to goal-scoring form with a brace in the last game, led the line once again. Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh teamed up as the double pivot with trickster Raphael Augusto playing centrally behind the striker.
Bengaluru were out of their blocks right from the start. The 'home' side sprayed passes forward, pressed high up the field in the opening minutes and earned their reward in the ninth minute of the match.
Miku's through-ball from the middle released Udanta Singh down the right flank. The Indian winger's low cross towards the far post was met with an accurately timed diving header by Sunil Chhetri to break open the deadlock.
Chennaiyin's approach to the game did not change drastically after going behind. They chose their moments to surge forward and break the offside trap.
After a couple of frustrating yet accurate offside calls, the Marina Machans found solace from a corner-kick in the 17th minute. Gregory Nelson's delivery allowed Mailson Alves to head the ball beyond a diving Gurpreet to level the scoreline.
Both sides stuck to the contrasting football philosophies that have worked for them throughout the season. Chennaiyin's resilience was put to the test whenever the Blues forayed forward but Mailson and Sereno had things under control.
Dimas Delgado had the chance to punish a rare blemish from the Chennaiyin defence at the half-hour mark. Udanta twisted and turned inside the box before leaving the ball for Rahul Bheke to cross. Inigo Calderon's headed clearance fell to Dimas Delgado at the edge of the box but the Spanish midfielder’s sweetly struck effort was brilliantly headed away near the goal line by the right-back himself.
A solid Chennaiyin not only restricted Bengaluru to long-range efforts but also pinched a shock lead at the stroke of half-time. John Gregory had talked about how their opponents don't repeat their set-piece routines but his team did exactly that. Nelson's delivery from the corner was headed into the net by Mailson Alves once again to stun the stadium into silence just before the break.
Dimas Delgado's injury at the end of the first-half forced Albert Roca to consider his options on the bench. He ended up using all his substitutions before the hour-mark as the Blues sought a comeback into the game.
John Gregory replied by introducing youngster Anirudh Thapa into midfield. Chennaiyin's excellent work at the back gave their attackers the assurance to counter at will. One such breakaway in the 67th minute allowed Marina Machans to double their lead.
Jeje dribbled forward with the ball and picked out Raphael Augusto at the edge of the box. The brilliant trickster adjusted his feet in time and curled the ball past Gurpreet into the bottom right corner of the net.
The two-goal cushion helped Chennaiyin play their natural game. The crowd that largely consisted of Bengaluru supporters, hurled abuses at the referee as their team failed to switch gears and find goals.
On a rare occasion when the Chennaiyin defenders failed to mark their men during a corner, Chhetri's close-range header was kept out by a brilliant finger-tip save from Karanjit in goal.
Sunil Chhetri's shocking miss from 12 yards out in the 86th minute summed up Bengaluru's night. Miku's pass only needed a tap into an open net but the skipper skied his shot into the stands.
Miku headed in from Udanta's cross to give hope to the fantabulous support that turned up to cheer and chant for their team but Gregory's pragmatic masterclass earned its deserved reward at the end of ninety minutes.