East Bengal recovered from an early deficit to beat arch-rivals Mohun Bagan 3-2 in a pulsating Federation Cup football semi-final in Ludhiana on Tuesday.
Surkumar Singh (27th minute), Dipendu Biswas (36th) and Ashim Biswas (47th) scored for East Bengal while Baichung Bhutia (12th) and Jose Ramirez Barreto (71st) found the net for the defending champions.
In the final, East Bengal will face the winners of Wednesday's second semi-final between Goa's Dempo Sports Club and Mahindra United of Mumbai.
Goalkeeper Subrata Paul, who saved at least three strikes that seemed destined to find the net in the second half, was East Bengal's hero.
Ironically, Paul is a former Bagan player.
East Bengal-Mohun Bagan matches are usually not meant for the faint-hearted and this one too was no less nail-biting. However, one did not find the packed house normally witnessed in such a derby clash.
The Indian captain was on target for Bagan when he showed characteristic opportunism in the six-yard box.
Nigerian Mohammad Gafari squared the ball wide to Jose Ramirez Barreto at the right edge of the box. The Brazilian's shot was blocked by Paul and Bhutia was the first to react.
There were three East Bengal players around him -- Saumik Dey, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Nigerian Majek Bolaji but the 'Fox in the Box' was at the right place at the right time to slot home the opener, which went in off the keeper.
Bagan were beginning to get into their stride and sensing the tide, East Bengal coach Subrata Bhattacharjee did not take long to make a tactical switch by sending in Dipendu Biswas in place of Debabrata Roy as early as the 16th minute.
As if on cue, the character of the match changed and there was more cohesion in the red and gold brigade's play.
There was a chance for Bagan to double the lead in the 20th minute when Barreto got behind the defence but hit over.
That miss would haunt the defending champions as it was all East Bengal after that.
Bagan's right side of defence seemed only to make up the numbers and Sanjeev Maria and Rauf Khan seemed a liability for coach Carlos Alberto Pereira da Silva as they were not able to match the speed of Ashim and Dipendu Biswas and Syed Rahim Nabi.
East Bengal were level when Sen and Dipendu showed nice inter-passing before the latter took a shot on goal. Surkumar was in the way and with a deft touch, deflected the ball in.
They were soon ahead when Nabi, who came into his own after a sluggish start, ran down the right flank and cut back for Dipendu to find the far corner.
East Bengal were now dominating proceedings as they took control of the midfield.
However, Bagan could have drawn level before half-time but for a glaring miss.
Bhutia found Barreto in the middle of the box but the Brazilian, who was having an off day by his standards, mistimed his shot. He, however, managed to find an onrushing Gafari, who hit over. The Brazilian was never found short on effort.
East Bengal added a third just after half time on a quick counter-attack.
Maria lost the ball in the midfield and Dipendu ran towards goal before passing to Ashim, who showed admirable composure to beat Peter Odafe and Rauf before finding the target.
Pereira put on Lalkamal Bhowmick and P C Lalwmpuuia as Bagan went all out. But they found an immovable object in Paul, who was like a man possessed. He made a tremendous save off a Gafari header and then
proceeded to make a series of telling saves to deny Bhutia, Lalawmpuia and Dharamjit Singh.
One did go past him when a Bhowmick centre found Barreto's head and beat the diving keeper.
Bhutia thought he had squared the match in the 75th minute after a goalmouth melee but the linesman ruled it off-side. Everything else found Paul in the way.
The victory avenged East Bengal's 4-3 loss to their arch-rivals in the Kolkata league last month.