Bengaluru FC's incredible second-half resurgence has been one of the stories of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season. But few could have predicted that the chief protagonist of this fairytale fightback would not be one of the Blues' established superstars.
Simon Grayson's team's second-half surge has been a case of collective strength, but if one individual has made a more telling impression, it has to be the young striker Sivasakthi Narayanan.
Joint third-highest top goalscorer in the Durand Cup 2022, Sivasakthi was one to be kept an eye on when the ISL 2022-23 season began in October, but the extra eyeballs probably bogged the 21-year-old down.
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As Bengaluru FC struggled, Sivasakthi failed to make the same impact that he had made in their triumphant Durand Cup campaign. But as he accumulated more minutes in the top tier, he warmed to the task.
Bengaluru FC finished the league stage with eight straight wins, and during that run, Sivasakthi found his knack for goals. He scored six times, making him the team's joint-leading goalscorer ahead of Sunil Chhetri and Roy Krishna, who have established themselves as the league's all-time greats.
"Initially, I was under tremendous pressure on such a big stage, playing with such big players. But these two great strikers, Chhetri and Krishna, helped me a lot. They told me to believe in myself every time and play my game, and that helped me cope with the pressure and keep cool. Their presence was a big help to me," Sivasakthi told indiansuperleague.com after Bengaluru FC's win over FC Goa.
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The 21-year-old scored a brace in the final league game to help the Blues stretch their winning streak and also help them finish in the top four, earning them a home tie against arch-rivals Kerala Blasters FC in the playoffs.
The youngster was delighted to have played a big part in helping the team achieve its targets.
"I am very happy because my goals helped the team beat a strong opposition in FC Goa," he said.
"We treated it as an important match, and the selection was proof of it as the coach played all three strikers together. I am delighted to have scored the goals when the team needed. As now we will be playing our knockout match in front of our home fans," he added.