In a grandstand finish, Bengaluru FC scored two goals in stoppage time to beat Kerala Blasters 2-0 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium at home to enter the semi-finals of the Indian Super League (ISL) on a high.
The widely anticipated fixture got off to a slow start with Bengaluru FC adapting to a change in formation enforced by the suspensions of first-choice defenders John Johnson and Juanan. Australian midfielder slotted in at centre-back alongside Rahul Bheke.
In a first half starved of goal-mouth action, Bengaluru head coach Albert Roca might have been forgiven for kicking the ball away in anger in the 44th minute. However, he was promptly warned by the referee as a frustrated Bengaluru FC team ended the first half with plenty of possession but very little by way of chances.
The lack of action on the pitch was unrecognisable from the stands where the supportersâ€™ groups of the two clubs â€“ Manjappada and West Block Blues â€“ ensured a record turnout of 25,373 for the game. A fierce rivalry has developed between the two fan groups and much of the talk before the game focused on the banter between the two.
It was however the Blues who ended the night on a high but not before the team endured a few anxious moments. Bengaluru FC missed several chances to take the lead with captain Sunil Chhetri and top-scorer Miku, both coming agonisingly close in the second half.
Chhetri shot over from a tight angle after midfielder Toni Dovale had slipped him in while Miku ran clear of the Kerala defence in the 88th minute only to shoot wide.
However, in the first minute of stoppage time, in a devastating counter-attack, Miku charged into the Kerala Blasters box and this time, made no mistake with the finish. The late goal sparked wild celebrations among Bengaluru FC fans in the stands.
Before the celebrations of the first goal had died down, second-half substitute Udanta Singh doubled the lead in the 93rd minute with a powerful left-footed finish.
With the win, Bengaluru FC finished the league stage of the ISL with 40 points, 11 clear of their nearest challengers Pune City.
The defeat ended a five-game unbeaten run for Kerala Blasters and sees the team finish the season without making it to the playoffs. While a win could have temporarily taken the team to fourth position, Blasters were virtually ruled out of the running for a play-off spot as FC Goa is yet to play Jamshedpur. The game between the two sides on Sunday will now determine the final playoff spot.
The top four teams in the league stage will face off in the semi-final stage this month. Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC and Pune City have already qualified for the play-offs.