The competition between Edeh Chidi and Jose Barreto has, in recent times, turned many of Mohun Bagan’s matches with others into no contests.
The green and maroon would never mind that as, on a number of occasions, the opposition have found themselves at the receiving end of either Chidi or Barreto’s scoring prowess.
If it was Barreto’s brace against JCT on Friday, Mahindra United ran into an in-form Chidi on Sunday, the Nigerian’s double strike helping Bagan move into their 27th Durand Cup final. The last time they reached the final of the world’s third oldest tournament was way back in 2004.
Nothing much separated the two sides in the first few minutes of the game. But once Bagan went ahead through Chidi’s 19th minute strike, the defending champions became a little nervous.
Chidi scored although Barreto had a hand in it --- the Brazilian headed down a James Singh-cross from the right for the Nigerian to finish. Even as Bagan went 1-0 up, the goal exposed Mahindra’s defensive frailties - the back four were nowhere to be seen when Barreto’s header dropped in front of the Mahindra post, giving Chidi enough time and space to slot the ball past a hapless Subhasish Roy Chowdhury.
“In Chidi and Barreto, we have two very dangerous strikers who can break through any defence,” said Karim Bencherifa, Bagan’s Moroccan coach.
N. P. Pradeep could have been the day’s saviour but Sangram Mukherjee pulled off a spectacular save to deny the Mahindra skipper the much-needed equaliser some 15 minutes into the second half.
They found the equaliser through a superb free-kick from Steven Dias which was headed in by Mohammad Rafi. But Bagan, with Chidi and Barreto always on the lookout for goals, sealed the issue when the Nigerian’s well-directed header crashed into the Mahindra net. The goal came a minute after James’ swirling free-kick missed the target by a few inches. The defenders erred yet again, as they left the far post empty.
What could have also hurt Mahindra was Pradeep’s indifferent form who was later replaced with Servian Svetozar Mijin in the 62nd minute. Mahindra could have taken the lead much before Bagan had it not been for Rafi’s wayward shot after Pradeep put the Mahindra striker through.
A few moments later, Mukherjee made a diving save to deny Sushil Kumar.