Bengaluru FC striker Sivasakthi scored for a third time in as many games, slotting home a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Mohammedan Sporting at the Saltlake Stadium in Kolkata on Friday.
The encounter, which saw the Black Panthers take a first half lead through Pritam Singh (13′), was the Blues’ final encounter in Group A, where they finished runners up with eight points to set up a quarterfinal clash against Odisha FC.
Grayson made as many as nine changes to his side, with Sunil Chhetri and Hira Mondal the only starters from the Blues’ squad that took on FC Goa just three days ago. Spanish midfielder Javi Hernandez made his first start since joining the club, while Sandesh Jhingan and Roy Krishna also returned.
The Blues got proceedings underway, but came up against a resolute Black Panthers’ side, who stayed stubborn at the back. Bengaluru’s first chance of the game fell to defender Aleksandar Jovanovic, whose attempted header looped over the bar. Only moments later, Mohammedan Sporting took the lead through Pritam Singh, whose late arrival in the box coincided with Lara Sharma’s parried save, before the midfielder slotted home from close range.
Bengaluru FC pushed forward and had their best chance in the 38th minute when Mondal sent in a low driven cross into the box for Krishna, but the Fiji striker’s attempt to divert it goalward was off target. Two minutes later, Chhetri saw an effort on the volley fly off target as the Blues went down the tunnel with a deficit.
Grayson rang in a change at the break as Leon Augustine came off the bench to replace Hernandez. The winger got in on the act immediately, with his cross into the box cleared for Prabir Das to see an effort from distance parried away by Zothanmawia in the Mohammedan goal.
At the hour mark, Bengaluru FC made two more changes in personnel as Rane and Jhingan were replaced by Parag Shrivas and Rohit Kumar. Against the run of play, Mohammedan almost doubled their lead through Abhishek Halder, whose attempted shot from distance seemed to be curling in but for a fantastic save from Lara.
With a little less than twenty minutes on the clock, Mohammedan Sporting were reduced to ten men after Abhishek Halder threw in a late challenge on Faisal Ali to pick up his second booking of the game.
Armed with the advantage of a man, Bengaluru FC continued to push forward in search of an equalizer, as Grayson sent on Sivasakthi in place of Ali. The striker made several forays into the final third, and eventually found the back of the net. After a corner was swung into a dangerous area and cleared away, Prabir’s shot from distance bounced off Leon and fell for Sivasakthi, who saw his effort hit the crossbar and bounce over the line.