To clinch a win after being a goal down seems to be a trend with East Bengal's in this Durand Cup. But a win, as always, will be a win and overcoming Salgaocar in a largely even tie for their 18th victory in as many games this season took the Kolkata giants into the semi-finals.
Salgaocar dominated the first half where East Bengal found it difficult to keep possession. Veteran striker Yusif Yakubu and Ryuji Sueoka gave East Bengal central defenders Uga Okpara and Nirmal Chhetri a torrid time while Tolgay Ozbey and Robin Singh did little to trouble Salgaocar custodian Arnab Das Sharma.
Yakubu broke the deadlock in the 31st minute when he headed in a superb corner-kick from Rocus Lamare. East Bengal were unable to retaliate effectively, with Naoba Singh's runs down the right being thwarted by Syed Farid and playmaker Penn Orji finding his usually precise passes being intercepted with regularity.
Despite being booked in the 38th minute, Okpara was the bedrock of the East Bengal defence.
His well-timed tackle just before the break prevented what would surely have been Sueoka goal from a crafty Yakubu through ball.
Coach Trevor Morgan must have provided the necessary inputs at half-time as the 16-time Durand Cup champions looked a different team after the breather.
Robin Singh, who suffered a concussion, was replaced by a feisty Budiram Tudu. Attacking with more flair, East Bengal gave it everything they had.
Their effort paid off in the 62nd minute when Ozbey was tripped by Khelemba Metei inside the box and 21-year old Sanju Pradhan converted from the spot.
Mehtab Hossain, working tirelessly in midfield, provided a delightful ball just six minutes later to Ozbey after a counter-attack initiated by Orji, allowing the Australian to net his third goal of the competition.
Salgaocar struggled to recovered from this double blow that came in six minutes though Marcus Mascarenhas should have done better than head wide a precise cross from Rinto Anto in the 78th minute. Yakubu did score in the final minute but the big Ghanaian was adjudged to had fouled East Bengal goalkeeper Sandip Dey.
Orji too came close to scoring in the 72nd minute but his shot was blocked by Das Sharma. The only blip for East Bengal is that Hossain picked up a yellow in the 76th, his second of the competition, and will remain sidelined for the semifinals.
"The team played well in the second half. I don't know why we're starting slowly but as long as we keep winning, it's great. My aim was to take the side to semis and now, it's going to be to reach the final," said East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan.
Exit Garhwal Heroes
JCT too entered the semi-finals, triumphing 2-1 over a tough Garhwal Heroes side. Nigerian Keke Ibrahim scored a brace, the second of which came in second-half added time, to dash the minnows' hopes of proceeding to the next stage after Kamal Rawat had brought them level.