Kolkata: Kerala lad Denson Devadas struck twice as Bengal made a spectacular comeback to beat Punjab 2-1, ending their 11 years title drought in the 64th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy.
Punjab drew first blood with Balwant Singh finding the net at the 30th minute but Denson scored just at the stroke of the break (45+2nd) to draw parity and then sealed the match with a winner in the 78th minute.
Now champions for a record 30 times, Bengal thus denied eight time winners Punjab their third title in four years at the floodlilt Yuba Bharati Krirangan here.
Hungry to end their 11-year title drought, Bengal began on an attacking note but their striking force missing the injured duo of Shankar Oraon and Nilendra Dewan let the team down early into the start.
Bengal centred their attack through Robin Singh from the left but the robust Noida lad was heavily guarded by the Punjab defenders duo of Harpreet Singh and Rahul Kumar.
Cheered on by a 15,000-plus home support, the hosts had their best chance in the 18th minute but only to be proved unlucky with lacklustre Tariff Ahmed at the receiving end.
Robin in a left-side attack set it up nicely for a surging Tarif whose banging header missed the net by a whisker as it came off the post, much to the agony of Bengal supporters in a 18th minute move.
Soon, Punjab stepped on the attack with Bengal’s chinks in the defensive armour beginning to expose and their forward lacking steam.
A goalkeeping error by Bengal’s Abhra Mondal, who was hero in their semifinal win over Goa, helped Punjab take a 30th minute lead.
A Rahul Kumar centre from the mid-field was misjudged by Abhra who came out of his position as Balwant headed it home in front of an open net.
Bengal defender Arnab Mondal had a chance to hold the strike but he was late to react as Balwant’s header had already crossed the mark with Punjab taking a 1-0 lead.
Soon, Bengal coach Shabbir Ali replaced Tariff with Souvik Chakraborty in his bid to revive the disjointed attack, a move that did not give immediate result but at least it unsettled Punjab’s defence.
But Bengal made a superb turnaround in the injury time of first-half to make it 1-1 at the break.
After he missed out on his corners, captain Snehashish Chakraborty proved lucky in the 45+3rd minute as Devadas’ close range header was enough for Bengal’s turnaround just at the break.
Following the spectacular turnaround by the lad from Cannanore, a place of former India captain V P Sathyen, Bengal dominated the start of the second-half with Punjab defence beginning to look worn out.
Bengal missed a sitter through Robin even as he was declared offside in their effort to rally past Punjab as they kept on attacking.
Punjab almost conceded in the 72nd minute but a goalline save by their defenders saw them hold on to the scoreline.
The diminutive Kerala midfielder made his presence felt -- once again -- this time bringing an end an 11-year agonising wait for the millions of Bengal football fans.
In a one-two attack with Robin, Devadas scored the decisive goal in the 78th minute as Bengal snatched past Punjab 2-1.
A left-footer powerful strike by the Chirag United midfielder found the back of the Punjab net after hitting the inside post as the scores of Bengal supporters went delirious in joy.
The veteran, Jagir, made desperate attempts with substitutions but Bengal held on for the regulation 12 minutes and the four minutes extra time.
Desperate to celebrate, coach Ali with scores of officials and fans in support almost went into the field leading to altercations with the referee.