About the only thing Chirag United lacked, coach Subroto Bhattacharya said on Tuesday, was Mohun Bagan's reputation. After Wednesday's semifinal between the two in the 114th IFA Shield, you could add character and Bhattacharya's blunt strikeforce to that.
Playing with 10 men since the 10th minute after Edeh Chidi headbutted Eduardo Chacon, Mohun Bagan kept their shape, rode the leadership qualities of stand-in skipper Deepak Mondal and the brilliance of goalkeeper Shilton Paul before Sangram Mukherjee saved Jayanta Sen's penalty, the first of the shootout. That was enough to set up a final against Churchill Brothers on Saturday.
Statistics will point to greater possession and better chances that Chirag United created after Chidi's early show of petulance. Had Josimar Martins and Parveen Kumar earned their keep or had Chacon done better with a free header, even the scoreline would have favoured the violet shirts. Ditto if Paul hadn’t arched back to tip a Parminder Singh screamer into the horizontal.
The scoreline could also have altered had Rakesh Masih not stuck out a timely leg to deny Josimar in the 80th or Mondal prevented Gouranga Biswas's centre from reaching P.C. Lalwmpuiya in the first minute of extra-time or his pouncing on the ball in the 29th after it slipped from Paul following Josimar making contact.
That 79 minutes passed between Micky Fernandes's header which went out and S. Santa Kumar’s drive which Sandip Nandy saved in the 102nd minute elucidated Mohun Bagan’s lack of attempts just as it highlighted Kalia Kulothungan’s inability to play the single-striker game.
It was an area where Bhaichung Bhutia and Jose Barreto were conspicuous by their absence. Twice Bagan won with 10 men last season —against Dempo and JCT in the I-League — and either or both were present. That meant pressure on the rival defence and its inability to add personnel to the front third.
Facing no such compulsion at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan this afternoon, Chirag United were done in by their inability to use the width of the park except for the first 20 minutes of the second half. It wasn't till late in the second half that Marcos Perreira's influence was extended to the front third, the Brazilian having till then snuffed out Jayanta Sen and Lalkamal Bhowmick's ability to drive Chirag United forward.
At 36, Perreira, whose standout show in suffocating Climax Lawrence and Beto stifled Dempo in the last Fed Cup, again showed that for some age is just a number. Pushing 30, Mondal isn’t a spring chicken either but be it lifting spirits or couching the blow for Paul when Mukherjee was brought on for penalties, he showed a trait rarely revealed in more than a decade of top-flight football.