Kolkata: In line for hat-trick of titles, East Bengal once again had luck on their side as they registered a 2-1 win over an impressive Prayag United SC to set up a summit clash with Salgaocar in the 33rd Federation Cup on Monday.
Controversial refereeing decision that aided in their win over Dempo in the last quarterfinal league match once again helped East Bengal as they came back from behind to beat nine-man United SC.
The Sanjoy Sen-coached side had a spectacular start before Snehasish Dutta gave them a 16th minute lead but East Bengal fought back when Alan Gow converted from a penalty in the 37th minute as both teams locked 1-1 at the interval.
But there was more drama in the rain-soaked second-half as it was reduced to a 11 vs nine-man battle between East Bengal and United SC, whose Joshimar Da Silva Martins and Deepak Mondal were given marching orders after picking two yellow cards in an action-packed last 15 minutes.
East Bengal made good use of the opportunity to bring in the match-winner courtesy substitute Khan Thang Paite, who came in place for Reisangmi Vashum.
However, Manipur`s referee Magho Singh ruled out a penalty in favour of United SC which was instrumental in the victory of East Bengal.
The controversial decision had a cascading effect on the inexperienced outfit as they went on to lose two players before conceding the second goal.
East Bengal dished out a shoddy display in the dying minutes when an off-colour Baljit Singh Sahni and Orji Penn missed two back-to-back sitters in front of an open net.
But it was quite an opposite script in the beginning that was dominated by United SC.
Right from the first minute, United SC kept East Bengal on the edge when their captain Lalkamal Bhowmick`s grounder from a Joshimar D`Silva Martins` centre almost gave them the lead.
But an alert Sandip Nandy saved the seven-time champions East Bengal from the embarrassment of conceding a first minute goal.
With their promising striker Robin Singh suspended, East Bengal had a new look forward in Baljit Singh Sahni who assisted Tolgay Ozbey.
Mispasses and poor coordination became the order of the day for the two-time defending champions, who struggled to get their act together.
East Bengal`s potent mid-field too lacked the usual flair without Mehtab Hussain (groin injury), something that forced Trevor James Morgan to drop Orji Penn in place of their Scottish signing Alan Gow, who did the playmaker`s role.
Before the favourites could find their feet, another glimpse of brilliance by the Sanjoy Sen-coached side yielded the lead.
Rookie Snehasish Dutta, who has been picked from Premier Division club Aryan, showed promise when his brilliant diagonal left-footer gave United SC a roaring start, stunning the overwhelming East Bengal supporters.
In what could be termed as a poor judgment by Nandy, who advanced to grab a loose ball from Malswamtulunga, United SC went ahead with a fine effort by Dutta.
It was all about maintaining the intensity to hold on to the lead, but United SC exposed their inexperience as they gave in the equaliser after conceding a penalty.
From a right flank attack created by Ozbey, United SC conceded a penalty when their defender Bello Rassaq chased Gow from behind before bringing him down inside the box.
Gow converted from the spot without any trouble to help East Bengal bounce back into the match.
After the break, Nandy made another fine save thwarting a powerful Joshimar attempt while East Bengal too missed one as Baljit capped a poor run.
In the 69th minute, Yusif Yakubu was clearly brought down inside the East Bengal box by Thockchom Naoba Singh but luck once again favoured the defending champions, who had a similar fate against Dempo in their crucial quarterfinal league match.
Joshimar led the United SC protest to get his first yellow in the 70th minute as he was sent out with a second yellow when he brought down Saumik Dey in the 75th.
Mondal, who got his first yellow in the 45+2nd minute, was the second to be sent out when he was shown the second yellow in the 80th minute.
Two marching orders in space of five minutes was a huge blow for the upcoming outfit who conceded their second goal, two minutes later that sealed their fate.
East Bengal will clash against three-time winners Salgaocar in a repeat of 1997 final on September 29.