| Mohun Bagan hero Sangram Mukherjee |
Calcutta: The margin Wednesday was marginal. But that didnt stop Mohun Bagan from making their 27th IFA Shield final, edging past Chirag United 5-4 on penalties, after 120 minutes of football failed to break the 0-0 deadlock.
Indeed, for Bagan, the semi-final at the Salt Lake stadium began on a wrong note.
In the absence of Jose Ramirez Barreto, much of the green and maroon brigades hopes were tied to Nigerian Edeh Chidi. But an ugly incident in the 10th minute upset all calculations.
Chidi and Chirag defender Eduardo were involved in a tussle for an aerial ball and that resulted in an altercation. In the heat of the moment, Chidi headbutted Eduardo, causing a minor cut on his nose. and referee .P. Thakur promptly issued marching orders to the Nigerian. Eduardo, who had started the argument, was let off with a yellow card.
The incident led coach Karim Bencharifa to alter his strategy and Bagan switched to defensive mode, employing a 4-4-1 formation, that saw the midfielders falling back time and again to bolster the back four.
Bagan, already at a loss in the absence of a striker, discovered that their attacking options virtually closed. With Kulothungan as the lone man upfront, Bencharifas team seldom ventured into rival territory.
Chirag, who enjoyed more ball possession, were hamstrung by the same drawback a lack of good strikers. Brazilian Joshimar was too slow while Parveen Kumar appeared a rudderless. In the 30th minute, Joshimar failed reach a potentially dangerous cross inside the Bagan box and, then, in the 47th minute, Parveen wasted a Gouranga Biswas cross with only Shilton to beat.
Chirag created more openings in the second half but their finishing let them down. Parminder Singhs long range effort was the best of the lot. Shilton did well to get his fingers to the ball before it hit the horizontal on its way out.
One wondered whether Chirag coach Subrata Bhattacharya could have deployed more men in the attacking zone, more so when 10-man Bagan were more interested in protecting their citadel.In the end it was Bencharifas gamble, of replacing an impressive Shilton with Sangram Mukherjee, in the last minute of extra time, that paid off as the latter blocked the decisive first penalty shot, taken by Jayanta Sen.
Marcos, Rakesh Masih, Snehasish Chakraborty, Surkumar Singh and James Singh converted to see Bagan through. Lalawmpuiya, Eduardo, Lalkamal Bhowmick and Subhasish Roychowdhury were on target for Chirag.
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul (Sangram Mukherjee 120), Surkumar Singh, Deepak Mondal, Rakesh Masih, N. Mohanraj (Biswajit Saha 99), L. James Singh, Micky Fernandes, Marcos Pereira, K. Kulothungan (Santa Kumar 78), Snehasish Chakraborty, Edeh Chidi
Chirag United: Sandip Nandy, Safar Sardar, Dulal Biswas (Subhasish Roychowdhury 60), Eduardo, Manas Das, Gouranga Biswas, Jayanta Sen, Lalkamal Bhowmick, Praveen Kumar (Lalawmpuiya 91), Parminder Singh (Bangkok 75), Joshimar
Referee: OP Thakur