Sunil Chhetri kept his calm to fire home an injury-time penalty that sent Bengaluru FC through to the semifinals of the Durand Cup after the Blues drew 2-2 with SESA Football Academy at the Raia Sports Complex, in Goa, on Monday.
Uncharacteristically slow off the blocks and going into the half with the score at 0-0, Chhetri gave Bengaluru FC the lead in the 65th minute after Ponif Vaz handled the ball in the box off an Udanta Singh cross. A little more than 10 minutes from time, SESA found an equaliser when ’keeper Pawan Kumar failed to deal with a firmly struck cross from substitute Agnelo Colaco after charging out to collect it.
With both teams on equal points and a similar goal difference, a tied finish would send Bengaluru through to the semis given Ashley Westwood’s team had more goals scored for than SESA. But just while it seemed the Blues would take the draw route to the last four, SESA rocked the game when another substitute, Melwyn Fernandes, smashed home what the home side thought was a certain winner in the second minute of injury-time. With the ball down the right, Fernandes unleashed a right-footer that swerved past a hapless Kumar to send the home support into celebratory frenzy.
With a little less than two minutes to the whistle and Bengaluru FC earning a corner, Westwood decided to throw in John Johnson for Curtis Osano. The change worked like a miracle when Johnson, without even touching the ball, turned the game on its head. Moving in the box in a build up to the corner, Johnson was brought down after Fernandes tugged the defender’s shirt rather immaturely. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot before sending Fernandes off for a second yellow.
Chhetri walked up to take the kick that would decide Bengaluru’s progress in the tournament and made no mistake, tucking his shot to the ‚keeper’s left to set up a semifinal clash with Salgaocar.
Westwood felt his side should have taken their chances while giving the spirited SESA show credit. “We are thankful to be in the semifinal of the Durand Cup. We created our chances but never put them away and with a young side like SESA who had nothing to lose, it can always come back to haunt you and it almost did. We spoke about how quick SESA are and we should have put away our chances,” he said.
“To concede like that, you’ve surely got to feel for SESA but we’ve watched replays of the penalty incident and have no doubt whatsoever that it was a deserved one,” he said. Bengaluru take on Derrick Pereira’s side on Thursday.