Mumbai City's epic comeback, Vukomanovic's shock exit, Colaco Golazo: moments that defined the 2023-24 ISL season

Vishal Kaith celebrates with Mohun Bagan's first-ever League Shield title in the Indian Super League after a dramatic final day victory over Mumbai City FC. Debabrata Biswas/Focus Sports/ISL

Mumbai City have won the ISL Cup, Mohun Bagan the ISL league shield -- the two best teams in 2023-24 rewarded with silverware. Now, that's the one-line summary of this rather frantic, often chaotic tenth season of the Indian Super League, but fret not, ESPN India's here to take you through a more comprehensive wrap, with the most defining moments of the season:

Highlight of the season

The second half of the season was marked by just how tight the league was. Five teams had a realistic shot at the league shield (and that was only decided on the last day!) while six others fought over the sixth and final playoff spot. Eleven of the twelve teams in the league had something or the other to play for till at least the last few rounds of matches, that's something.

A more equal distribution of talent -- playing and coaching -- is a large reason behind this, as well as the fearlessness that almost every team exhibited regardless of opposition.

Best goal of the season

How do you define a "best goal" candidate? The aesthetic value of it? The sheer difficulty of it? The significance of it? This season's winner ticks all these boxes.

Final day of the season, Mohun Bagan need to beat Mumbai City to take the league shield and Liston Colaco does this to score the opener -- twisting Mehtab Singh's blood with studied nonchalance and pulling of a ball roll for the ages before shifting back to his right and smashing one into the far top corner. 1-0 Bagan and you knew then the game was done 28 minutes in.

Best comeback (in-game)

Six minutes, three goals, all after 90.

Trailing 2-0 at the Fatorda against a Goa that had dominated them for 89 minutes, Mumbai City pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks, scoring three in six minutes to take a 3-2 win. It was then that City coach Petr Kratky knew his team could go on and win the Cup.

Gone in six minutes: Mumbai's Indians spur injury time comeback to beat Goa in ISL semifinal

P.S All three goals were prompted by an all-Indian attack force of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Vikram Pratap Singh, Bipin Singh, Gurkirat Singh, and Jayesh Rane. Simply sensational.

Best stat of the season

Read in conjunction with the abovementioned postscript:

13 goals scored in 6 games before Petr Kratky: 3 of them by Indians (23%)

36 goals scored in 19 games with Kratky: 25 scored by Indians (69.4%)

Best assist of the season

Sahal Abdul Samad missed large swathes of the season with serious injury troubles, but when he was on the pitch, he did produce some trademark magic. And none were more special than when he dissected Chennaiyin FC with a special through ball to Manvir Singh to seal Bagan's win in Chennai.

It started with him running at Jiteshwor Singh, before leaving him twisted inside-out with a shimmy of hips. He then raced forward, drew a false challenge with a feint and running square across goal bisected two in Chennaiyin blue with a ball so perfectly weighted Manvir could slam it home on the run.

Best tactical adjustment

Antonio Habas stuck to Juan Ferrando's 4-2-3-1 for exactly one game: a hilariously end-to-end Kolkata derby where Bagan were ripped open far too often for Habas' liking. But with the squad not assembled in the way his teams, generally are, Habas had to adapt, and so he did, putting out a 3-2-4-1 that brought out the best of the players at his disposal. Especially Dimi Petratos and Anirudh Thapa, who (till the ISL final), wreaked havoc with their floating dual #10 roles.

Play. Win. Repeat. Champions. Welcome to the Antonio Habas and Mohun Bagan show

Best pre-assist of the season

How do you break open a deadlock in the 98th minute of a crunch playoff tie in which you've been outplayed for the most part?

Well, if you're Ahmed Jahouh, you look one way and lift a gorgeous through ball the other way to Roy Krishna, allowing him to race into hitherto unavailable space and square a ball for Isak Vanlalruatfela to tap-in for the winner. Ah, the languid brilliance.

Jahouh's languid brilliance steers Odisha into ISL semifinals as Blasters collapse again

Best comeback (across the season)

Owen Coyle came back to Chennaiyin as a club icon but took over the reins of a club that -- on paper -- seemed destined to struggle this season. As if to affirm that belief, they started with three losses and by the end of December they'd won just three of their 12 ISL matches till then. In the next 10, they won five (including three of the last four) to take home an unlikely playoff place.

The season just proved that the longer a squad spends with Coyle moulding them, the better they get.

Coyle's Chennaiyin promise greater heights despite ISL exit in playoffs

Biggest season-changing injury

Kerala Blasters with Adrian Luna in the ISL: 9 games, 17 points @ 1.9 points per game.

Kerala Blasters without Adrian Luna in the ISL: 13 games, 16 points @ 1.2 points per game.

In fact, in the calendar year 2024, without Luna, they lost 7 of their 10 games. There were multiple factors behind this massive dip in form, but the loss of their talismanic captain struck them harder than any injury did to any other team this season.

ISL: Unstoppable Luna secures memorable win for Kerala Blasters on Vukomanovic's return

Best he-should-have-made-the-India-team player

Parthib Gogoi has been named in the India team probables this time by Igor Stimac, but that was before he could call up any Mohun Bagan or Mumbai City players. With the season he had, though -- especially a fiery first half -- there's a good argument to be made that the goal shy national team could have done with Parthib's uncanny ability to work a goal out of nothing much before this.

FIFA WC Qualifiers: India's shock loss is on coach Stimac, but he can still turn things around

Just look at this:

Biggest surprise package

Punjab FC, the first team ever to be promoted to the ISL, were expected to struggle big-time, and they did for quite a while... till, they didn't.

Look at how the first half of their season went: LLDDLLDDDL. That's 0 wins and five points in 10 matches. The next twelve? WLWWLWLWDLLW. That's 6 wins and 19 points in 12. They came within a whisker of the last playoff place and played some of the most entertaining, all-out attacking football in the league. Watch out for coach Staikos Vergetis and co. next season.

Biggest shock of the season

With a simple post on their social media, Kerala Blasters announced they'd parted ways with Ivan Vukomanovic. After a tough season, but a third consecutive playoff appearance in three years, there had been no indications that he was leaving. But he has now, leaving behind a quite incredible tale of love and loyalty.

Ivan Vukomanovic walks off into the sunset, a Blasters legend that Kerala will miss

Best cup team that struggled in the league

East Bengal got to the final of the Durand Cup and won the Super Cup -- both campaigns conducted with flair and the desire that East Bengal fans pride themselves on.

Carles Cuadrat helped EB's long 12-year wait for a national-level trophy, but in the league, they were a damp squib, finishing 9th and looking the part.

How Carles Cuadrat ended East Bengal's 12-year wait for a national trophy

Most courageous player(s)

Anyone from Manipur. They played the entirety of this season while their home state was burning, many of them personally affected.

'Don't forget Manipur': Dheeraj Singh appeals for peace

Club that would wish this season never happened

Hyderabad FC. Rock bottom of the league with 8 points in 22 games. A whopping 13 behind the second-last team. A goal difference of -33 (the next worst was -14). Staff unveiling banners asking for their salaries to be paid. Players leaving en masse. It was a properly disastrous season for the 2021-22 ISL champions.

Hyderabad FC in crisis: FlFA ban to freefall via unpaid salaries and player exodus