Three goals, three points for the Red Warriors, as they overpower a resurgent Penang team for their first win of the 2014 Malaysia Cup
BY DARREN GOON Follow on Twitter
Sitting bottom of Group C (the so-called “Group of Death”) after the first round of matches, Kelantan needed to capitalize on home advantage against the team perceived to be the weakest amongst the four, Penang, in order to stay in contention for a quarter-final spot.
The islanders last met their hosts in 2010, but arrived at the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium unbeaten in four games. That record looked to be on the rocks early in the game, after Fakri Saarani gave Kelantan the lead in the 9th minute. Good work from Francis Forkey Doe and Brendan Gan outside the box had the Penang defence at sixes and sevens. The ball fell to captain Badhri Radzi, who threaded a low pass through to Fakri Saarani, inexplicably unmarked, on the right. He slipped as he shot, but still managed to slot the ball into the bottom corner, just out of G. Jeevananthan’s reach.
Under the home team’s aggressive pressing, Penang struggled to retain possession. Even when they managed to get ahold of the ball, they sent many passes long and astray. Titi Buengo was increasingly isolated up front, and Kelantan’s midfielders thrived in the space afforded to them. Badhri tried another through-ball, but Jeevananthan came out quickly to smother. He had to be swift again minutes later to intercept a cross to Doe.
After 20 minutes, a Penang counter-attack saw Buengo outmuscle Farisham Ismail, but Rafiuddin Roddin’s first-time shot from the Angolan’s cut-back sailed just over the bar.
Almost immediately, Fakri cut inside and sped into the box. He appeared to be caught by Fakhrul, and went to ground belatedly to earn Kelantan a penalty, and a yellow card for Fakhrul. Doe casually rolled it past Jeevananthan to put his team two-up.
Kelantan treated the rest of the first half like a training session, pushing the ball back and forth with ease, even trying some flashy one-touch passes outside the Penang penalty box. The visitors looked lethargic, and their fans’ biggest cheer of the night so far came when Elias Sulaiman weaved past two players in his own half. But, like most of their moves, it came to naught.
The Red Warriors started the second period like they ended the first, as Wan Zaharulnizam cut inside within a minute to blast a right-footer just over the goal. Jeevananthan was soon called upon again to punch a cross out of the box, and just when it appeared that Penang were about to concede another, they pulled one back instead.
Lee Gil-Hoon, Penang’s top scorer this season, burst into life on the hour mark and beat the offside trap, racing down the right before sending in a cross that evaded both Khairul Fahmi and Nik Shahrul. Rafiuddin was lurking at the far post, and he gleefully tapped it in for his second goal of the Malaysia Cup campaign.
Rejuvenated, the Panthers threatened again, and only a poor first touch (it came off his knee) from Titi Buengo put paid to a promising attack after Gil-Hoon’s quick through-ball. The South Korean was frustrated again after cutting inside Hussein Alaa to thrash a shot wide of the near post.
In search of a third goal, George Boateng threw on Shakir Ali for Amar Rohidan. The powerful striker soon had the ball in the back of the net, rounding Jeevananthan after a long ball found him onside. To the stadium’s surprise, the referee disallowed it after pulling play back for a late barge on Fitri Omar. Zharif Hasna was booked for that foul, barely seconds after coming on for Azizan Baba.
The Panthers continued to dominate the second half, with Gil-Hoon in particular causing plenty of problems. His headed pass into space in the 85th minute set up substitute Luiz Ricardo, who thrashed a ferocious volley that stung the palms of Khairul Fahmi as he pushed it onto the bar and out.
Two minutes later, their two-goal lead was restored. Fakri was second-favourite to a hopeful flick-on by Shakir, but he hustled Fakhrul off the ball, and slipped as he prodded the ball towards goal. Bizarrely, his daisy-cutter sneaked in at the near post, past the gaze of Jeevananthan, who soon had his head in his hands.
Kelantan weathered the storm and emerged with an important win, while it’s back to the drawing board for Penang, who entertain Super League champions JDT in three days’ time.