Bengal broke their 11-year jinx to lift the Santosh Trophy for a record 30th time on Sunday after defeating Punjab 2-1 here.
Kannur lad Denson Devdas struck twice to give the hosts the most cherished symbol of national dominance.
It was a clash that witnessed two contrasting styles of football. The physically imposing Punjab were reliant on long balls flung in from deep while the rest of the time, they were busy thwarting Bengal's attacks, often with brutal tackles. Repelling as some of those tactics were, Bengal never really ran into rough weather. Devdas and Jayanta Sen practically had the entire midfield to themselves and with the talented Robin Singh spearheading the attack, Bengal never really seemed out of ideas.
But Bengal both manufactured and fluffed a number of opportunities and Tarif Ahmed had to take most of the blame. Gambling on a half-fit striker was not on for a game of this stature. Ahmed was out of sorts and struggled to get feet to the ball, bungling a few chances that could have given Bengal a head start. Once, he had only Punjab goalkeeper Paramjit Singh to beat but his nod off Robin's floater took a thundering ricochet off the upright.
The fluffs came back to haunt the hosts. Bengal custodian Abhra Mondal left his bastion to intercept Rahul Kumar's cross from the right but misjudged the flight completely, allowing Balwant Singh to head it in. The setback prompted Bengal coach Shabbir Ali to ring in the changes. Souvik Chakraborty relieved Ahmed of his miseries to take position in the hole behind Robin, leaving the TFA recruit as sole striker upfront. The change finally injected some vitality.
Bengal equalised when Snehasish Chakraborty's swerving corner was nodded in by Devdas from a melee in added time of the first-half.
After the break, Bengal came out more motivated to get the winner. Robin's header missed the mark but the assistant referee's flag had already been raised. In the final quarter, Harpreet Singh darted in at the nick of time to pull off a goalline save, clearing Dhanarajan R’s header.
But just after that Devdas struck. An apparently harmless one-two between the midfielders turned on its head when the midfielder bulged the Punjab net with a piledriver following a lay-off from Robin. Taken aback by the sudden goal, Punjab launched into some last-gasp attacks but Bengal pulled all stops to ensure Devdas's strike was the last surprise the match witnessed.