|EB’s scorers (from top) Surkumar Singh, Dipendu Biswas and Ashim Biswas
Ludhiana: Subrata Bhattacharya proved on Tuesday that he could be a master at work when faced with a tough situation.
His tactical nous had been a hallmark of his stint with Mohun Bagan from 1999 to 2002. During that period, the green-and-maroon side bagged two National Football League titles and the man who orchestrated it became first Indian to win the AFC Coach of the Month award.
Now in a different role and under pressure to deliver, Bhattacharya’s masterstroke felled his old team, bringing smiles to the red-and-gold camp and, perhaps, saving his skin as well.
It came in the 17th minute with the form of striker Dipendu Biswas replacing sideback Debabrata Roy. East Bengal were trailing by a Bhaichung Bhutia goal, but Bhattacharya’s move had such a telling effect on the match that Mohun Bagan’s back was broken and East Bengal took control of the proceedings to emerge 3-2 winners in a pulsating Federation Cup semi-final.
It was also a sweet revenge for that 3-4 loss in the CFL Premier Division, which was hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles on Bhattacharya’s head.
East Bengal will take on the winners of Mahindra United and Dempo SC in the final on Saturday.
A pity that less than thousand fans were witness to such a high-voltage drama at the Guru Nanak Dev Stadium.
A jarring note in Bhattacharya’s tactical symmetry, however, came in the final half an hour. Had the East Bengal coach displayed the same acumen at that time, it wouldn’t have been such a struggle for the red-and-yellow brigade.
When Bhaichung put Mohun Bagan ahead in the 11th minute, Bhattacharya looked a shattered man. But his sense of game-reading forced him to take a smooth-functioning Debabrata out within six minutes, paving the way for Dipendu’s arrival as Asim Biswas’ partner upfront. Dipendu made up superbly for the absence of the Brazilian Edmilson, who watched the proceedings from the bench, nursing a hamstring tear.
Dipendu, for the next half an hour, tore open the Mohun Bagan defence with electrifying moves that fetched East Bengal three goals. While Dipendu scored a goal himself, he was the brain behind the other two.
His magic started in the 25th minute when the seasoned striker screamed down the right after receiving the ball from Habibur Rehman. His cross at the goalmouth was so perfect that Surkumar Singh looked all at ease when his low shot beat goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee hands down.
East Bengal had no intention of reducing the pressure and went into the lead in the 35th minute.
This time Rahim Nabi and Dipendu worked in tandem to script the goal, producing a stunning passing bout to invade the rival box before Dipendu finished the move with a clinical shot. The match looked beyond Bagan’s grasp when Asim scored the third goal for his team four minutes into the second half.
The pass was provided by Dipendu but Asim brought the spectators on their feet with remarkable agility and dodging.
But Mohun Bagan brought life to the match, Barreto stunning Paul with a brilliant header. Thereafter, East Bengal had to fight with their backs to the wall and, but for Paul’s courageous performance, Mohun Bagan would have levelled scores.
Packing further punch, coach Carlos Roberto Pereira brought in P. C. Lalawmpuia and Lalkamal Bhowmick to reinforce the Mohun Bagan attack.
It was surprising that Bhattacharya, during that period, persisted with both strikers — Dipendu and Asim — and didn’t introduce a snatcher to put a curb on the marauding Mohun Bagan. Though he did bring in Abdul Samed in the 84th minute in a late realisation. But it was East Bengal’s day and Bhattacharya had the last laugh.
East Bengal: Subrata Paul; Surkumar Singh, M. Suresh, Majek Bolaji, Saumik Dey; Syed Rahim Nabi, Jayanta Sen, Mehrajuddin Wadao (Abdul Samed, 84th), Alvito D’Cunha, Debabrata Roy (Dipendu Biswas, 17th ); Asim Biswas.
Mohun Bagan: Sangram Mukherjee; Habibur Rehman, Sanjeev Maria, Peter Odafe, Rauf Khan (P.C. Lalawmpuia, 54th); James Singh, Mohammed Gafari, Suman Dutta (Lalkamal Bhowmick, 42nd), Dharamjit Singh; Jose Ramirez Barreto, Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: K. Sankar.