Mumbai: Star striker Sunil Chhetri struck a late goal as a substitute to help Bengaluru FC eke out a 1-0 win over Mumbai City FC in the first leg of the Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final here on Tuesday.
Chhetri's 78th minute goal gave the Blues a vital advantage ahead of the second leg in Bengaluru on Sunday.
As they have all season, the Islanders were once again the team that dominated possession and created more scoring chances than their opponents.
In the second minute, Greg Stewart set the pace down the right with a low cross back into the box for Bipin Singh, whose shot was blocked by Prabir Das. The defender was called into action again just ten minutes later to deny Lalengmawia Ralte and Jorge Diaz after a one-two.
At the other end of the pitch, Roshan Naorem's through ball went past Mourtada Fall, but Phurba Lachenpa went down and reached the ball before Roy Krishna could cause damage, and this was largely the extent of the Blues' penetration in the first half.
Just over five minutes away from the break, Stewart sent Diaz through on goal with a defence-splitting pass from the edge of the box. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was quick to get off the line to thwart the Argentine striker as the deadlock remained intact at the break.
Before the hour-mark, Bengaluru FC brought on Chhetri to replace Sivasakthi Narayanan, and the veteran India captain made the difference for his side for the second game in a row.
In the final quarter of the game, moments after Das' long-range effort was palmed over the bar for a corner, the deadlock was broken by the visitors. Chhetri escaped his marker and made his way towards the near post, where he headed Roshan's corner in from close range to score a crucial goal for his side.
Bengaluru FC were then the side that created the more potent chances as the hosts were resigned to playing outside the box by a disciplined defence. Chhetri was at the forefront again, forcing two saves from Lachenpa.
One of them was in the final minute of stoppage time, as Bengaluru FC broke way to create a 3-vs-2 situation in the final third as the ball came to an unmarked Chhetri. He went for goal at the near post but Lachenpa was alert to keep Bengaluru FC's advantage to a less intimidating level ahead of the second leg.
The Blues held on to the slender advantage eventually, extending their winning streak to ten games in the ISL.