Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson expressed pride at reaching the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) final after a thrilling penalty shootout win over Mumbai City FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.
The Blues leading 1-0 from the first leg, were beaten 1-2 on the night despite taking the lead through Javi Hernandez. Mumbai City FC made their way back into the game with goals from Bipin Singh and Mehtab Singh.
However, the Blues held firm after the Islanders' comeback to take the game to the penalty shootout where Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved Mehtab Singh's spot kick to allow Sandesh Jhingan to win the tie for the home side 9-8 on penalties.
Grayson praised the mentality of his team for sticking together during the difficult times in the match.
"We started well and then we conceded the penalty which could have rocked us, but we said that if anything goes against us we stay mentally strong. All the defenders defended well, midfield players worked extremely hard. Overall, I thought it was a really good game. Both teams were trying to win it and played some good football. The goalkeepers made some good saves. And then it came down to the penalty shootouts where somebody is going to be a hero and somebody is going to be a villain. Fortunately for us, it went our way," Grayson was quoted as saying by ISL.
"We had to be at our best against a strong Mumbai City FC team as they have some talented players in that team," he added.
The Englishman also reflected at his team's turnaround this season with great pride and congratulated everyone connected with the club for the remarkable recovery.
"We are delighted. We are so pleased for the players because they gave everything tonight. The supporters have not had such nights for a long time. I am so proud of everyone connected with the club," Grayson said.
"We have come a long way for what we have achieved so far this season from where we took a lot of mental strength and togetherness and we have had that among everybody, not just the coaches and the staff. It's a fantastic achievement and now we have to go to Goa and try and finish off the job," he added.
Bengaluru FC were under pressure after Mumbai City FC levelled the tie 2-2 aggregate but Grayson managed to take the game into extra time, bringing on the likes of Pablo Perez. A switch of formation allowed Bengaluru FC to turn the tide of the tie and pose a threat of their own in extra time.
"With the substitutions, the aim was to win the game. We shifted to a 4-3-3 to get players like Pablo Perez involved. We have played that system before, the players are comfortable playing it so I felt it was the right thing to do and fortunately it paid off," he said.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was a hero for the team not just in the penalty shootout but also early on in the match when he saved a penalty from Greg Stewart to keep Bengaluru FC in front during the tie. The Englishman believes that moment gave them an early impetus in the contest.
"The penalty save gave us a lift. Gurpreet is a big frame but you expect Greg Stewart to score more often than not. But that save gave us an extra lift. We then scored a great goal through Javi Hernandez. I was disappointed with the two goals that we conceded but that's just being critical as a coach," Grayson said.
Bengaluru FC will now face either Hyderabad FC or ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL final in Goa on Saturday as they look to win the title for the second time in their history.
(With inputs from IANS)