Goa, Mar 19 (IANS): Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson was immensely proud of his team's performance as the Blues lost 4-3 on penalties against ATK Mohun Bagan in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here.
Dimitri Petratos opened the scoring for the Mariners in the opening minutes of the game from a spot-kick. The lead, however, was short-lived as Sunil Chhetri - who came on for the injured Sivasakthi Narayanan -- converted from the spot to level things at the stroke of half-time.
The second-half saw the Blues take the lead through a Roy Krishna headed goal only to be cancelled out by another Dimitri Petratos' penalty strike in the 85th minute on Saturday.
The extra time brought a standstill, with both the finalists looking for a winner. With no goals in the extra time, teams lined up for the penalties and it was Bruno Silva and Pablo Perez's misses which proved costly for the Blues as ATK Mohun Bagan converted all their penalties and clinched their maiden ISL trophy.
ISL runners-up Bengaluru FC had a season to remember with the team producing one of the league defining runs of the history. Their incredible eight-match winning run saw them finish in the fourth position in the league stage after having started the year on the ninth spot. The Blues also ousted League Shield winners Mumbai City FC on penalties in the semi-finals on the road toward their third-ever ISL final.
The side were on the lookout for their second ISL trophy with an impeccable record of victories to complete the fairytale. Grayson shed light on how the loss was a tough blow for everyone involved with the club and expressed immense pride about how the team proved everyone wrong after enduring a difficult beginning.
"It's very tough for the players and everybody connected with a club, to come this far, and (to) lose a major final on penalties. (It) is never easy to take but the words I said to the players was that they can be mentally proud of themselves. I'm immensely proud of what they've done, to say that four months ago, nobody gave us any opportunity, any chance we'd get to this stage of the season.
What we did is we proved a lot of people wrong and we've had an unbelievable period of time. Unfortunately, we just couldn't quite get to the magical line and get the breaks that you need in a penalty shootout," Grayson said in the post-match press conference.
A major blow was handed to Bengaluru FC in the initial minutes of the match as Sivasakthi Narayanan had to be replaced due to an injury. The youngster has been a vital cog for the Blues during the inspiring turnaround in the league. Grayson was gutted to lose the striker so early in the match and talked about his hard work that got him to the Hero ISL final.
"We were rocked to lose Siva (Narayanan) in a minute, who's been outstanding all season and to lose up to that threat that we had so early on as a team but for the lad himself. He's worked extremely hard to be on this stage but yeah, it's just one of those nights that it didn't go for us unfortunately," the coach said.
The Blues missed out on the ISL trophy by mere inches, but the journey has been one of the most heroic ones. Grayson expressed that the season has been of no regrets and the players can look at themselves in the mirror and feel proud about giving their best.
"The last words I've said in most of the games at this crucial stage of the season have been of no regrets. Every player can say to himself in the morning when he looks in the mirror that I gave everything and can say as a team, we didn't quite get the breaks that you need in these close-fought competitions and matches. The other message that we said was when you see the opposition celebrate, use it as a motivation for next year or even in the Super Cup. When we have a few days off, we'll come back in and try and win that so use it as a motivation going forward," he said.
"The disappointment that we have is obviously equal to the amount of pride that I've got in the group of players. To see where we were and get to where we are. Sitting here now takes an incredible amount. Probably never been done in many, many countries so players can be proud of the atmosphere, and the number of supporters that grew, still singing at the end and then showing their appreciation for us, making the time and effort to come to us. This football club has always been about success and I'm sure it will be remembered and used as a motivation for tough success in the future," Grayson concluded.