BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Selangor ignored all their pre-season drama, opening their league campaign convincingly by beating Pulau Pinang 2-0 at the Selayang Municipal Stadium. Both their goals were scored in the first half by new signing Francis Forkey Doe, and Adam Nor Azlin.
Maniam's Selangor started with an almost all-new lineup. Goalkeepers Norazlan Zainal and Khairulazhan Khalid were out injured so third goalkeeper Zarif Irfan Hashimuddin had a rare start. The Selangor boss also fielded only two foreign players. Andik Vermansah were still injured, while very recent signing Victor Astafei was not even on the bench.
His Pulau Pinang counterpart meanwhile Ashley Westwood started with recent Puskas Award winner Faiz Subri and Jafri Firdaus Chew in front, while fielding all but one of his foreign signings. Journeyman Syed Adney Syed Hussein, a new signing at the island side, made his debut for the club.
The first chance only came in the 14th minute, when Saiful Ridzuwan Selamat received a glorious pass from youngster Syahmi Safari in the Panthers' box. However his shot went just wide to the left of Adney.
Six minutes later another Selangor youngster; forward Adam Nor Azlin, audaciously tried chipping the ball over Adney, but the goalkeeper did not fall for it.
In the 22nd minute, a Pulau Pinang counter-attack move almost caught the home side out by surprise. Faizat tried slotting the ball into the far bottom corner, but Zarif got a finger to it.
In the 34th minute, the first goal came. A cross by S. Veenod was met by Ugo Ukah's header, but it was palmed out by Adney. However the rebound did not travel far, and Adam was there to expertly slot the ball in at the far post.
Adam Nor Azlin celebrates his goal against Pulau Pinang. Photo by Hazrin Mohd Zaidun/CSN
In fact, Selangor's youngsters have been lighting up the match from before. Adam has been threatening, drifting behind the Pulau Pinang backline, while Syahmi has been capitalising the gap on the Panthers' left wing like an experienced winger.
Just one minute before halftime, Doe doubled the Red Giants' lead. Capitalising on a mistake by the visitors, Saiful Ridzuwan Selamat passed the ball to Doe who beat the offside trap, before slotting the ball into the left bottom corner.
Moments later Doe seemed to have doubled his tally, again from a Saiful pass, but this time he was flagged for offside.
The very enjoyable first half ended 2-0 deservingly to the Red Giants, who have been playing a very attractive brand of football.
Just two minutes into the second half, Maniam had to replace returnee Doe who got injured in a clash. On came another returnee, Afiq Azmi for the Liberian.
Despite having a bigger slice of the possession and the home side taking their foot off the gas, the Panthers could not trouble the Selangor defence. Westwood made a double substitution in the 67th minute, taking off Faiz and Mafry Balang, for Faizat Ghazli and Azrul Ahmad.
Adam tried a grounder shot towards the end of the match, but his chance went agonisingly wide.
The match ended 2-0, a promising start for the youth-oriented Selangor under P. Maniam. However, surely the eagerness with which they dialed down their pressing after leading must be rectified, if they want to go far this season.
Selangor: Zarif (GK), Razman (C), Ukah, Rizal, Syahmi, Halim (Kannan 80'), Saiful, Raimi, Adam (Fittri 90'), Doe (Afiq 47'), Veenod.
P. Pinang: Adney (GK), Redzuan, Lobo, Russell, Mafry (Zulkhairi 67'), Rafiuddin (C), Fereira, Syameer, Faizat, Faiz (Azrul 67'), Jafri (Failee 84').