Even if nobody acknowledges, Shabbir Ali knows 'poaching' Robin Singh was one laudable move. For hadn't it been for the Noida lad's snap left-footer in the dying minutes, Bengal would have sunk without a trace against old rivals Goa.
The hosts went on to win the match, bailed out by none other than Abhra Mondal in a penalty shootout, but Ali knows they weren't nearly as good as they would have wanted them to be. Handicapped by their inability to score at the opportune moment, Bengal were looking all but out. But late amends for their goof-ups in a spirited display, one which Ali might have been referring to as 'playing like Bengal' on the eve of their tense clash made the difference. They rode a bit of luck and a lot of guts to pip the defending champions in the Santosh Trophy semi-finals to set up their second successive final in as many years, against Punjab who beat Tamil Nadu 3-1 later.
Frayed nerves, a frail defence, callous possession and even more pathetic goalkeeping marked an inauspicious start by the hosts, a passage of time ripe for the defending champions to tilt the match in their favour.
They did just that in the 20th minute when striker Milagres Gonsalves heaved the ball into the goal after Peter Carvalho set it up off Godwin franco's corner. After the lead, Goa settled down nicely while Bengal were still struggling to look for some form. Striker Nilendra Dewan's pullout just seven minutes into the match only went on to compound their woes. His partner Tarif Ahmed again proved to be a dud leaving substitute Robin Singh an uphill task upfront.
Post-breather however, Bengal regrouped to dish out a remarkable fight-back. Denson Devdas and Sen wrested back possession with a dogged display of intricate passing. And with Singh keeping the defence on edge with his greasy moves, Bengal looked threatening. Even then, they too fluffed a lot of chances.