Kelantan kickstarted their AFC Cup challenge with an impressive late victory over South China
BY MARK DAWSON
The match got off to a relentless start with both teams operating at a blistering tempo. It was South China who immediately threatened following good work by the bright Lee Hong Lim. His forward pass found forward Andrew Barisic, and his searching first time centre was headed narrowly wide by strike partner Sasa Kajkut.
Kelantan, resting a number of key players such as Mohamed Shawky, Badri Radzi and Mohammed Ghaddar struggled to create many chances in the opening period. While Zairul Fitree and Francis Forkey Doe looked sharp, many of their teammates struggled for fluency. It was Forkey Doe who thought that he should have had a penalty on 12 minutes as the ball struck the hand of Sean Tse after Doe tried to flick it over him, but the referee, who let many poor tackles go unpunished throughout the game, was unmoved.
The Red Warriors best chance of the first half came on 18 minutes as Wan Zaharulnizam took aim from 20 yards, but his strike was always going wide. Five minutes after this and South China should really have taken the lead. It came following an error in judgement from Kelantan's Tuah Faim who misjudged Chan Wai Ho's cross field pass. This allowed Hong Lim to advance on the left before cutting back for an unmarked Sarisic who fired badly wide with the goal at his mercy.
Ten minutes after this and Sarisic had another opportunity, this time getting on the end of a cross from the right to draw a smart save from Khairul Fahmi. The Kelantan stopper reacted well but in any case the effort wouldn't have counted as the forward was flagged for offside wrongly.
South China came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock on 49 minutes, following their first corner kick of the game. It was Lee Chin Ho who had the opportunity, swiveling to shoot after the ball broke to him, but Tuah Faim made up for his poor first half defending to get a vital deflection on the ball turning it onto the crossbar.
Minutes later and Forkey Doe was again making a nuisance of himself for the home team. He raced onto a long ball forward and beat South China keeper Yap Hung Fai to the ball. With the angle too tight to shoot, he instead played the ball back to Zaharulnizam, who was composed in turning inside Tse, but less composed as he screwed the ball wide.
With a young Kelantan side not looking particularly threatening, coach Steve Darby decided to change things by introducing three of his top players, with Ghaddar, Shawky and Radzi entering the fray. Soon after this the substitutions paid dividends as the home team took the lead somewhat against the run of play. It was a good burst forward on the right by Shawky, and he crossed for Ghaddar who miscontrolled, however the ball fell kindly for Zaharulnizam who smashed home into the roof of the net.
Two minutes after this and it was almost 2-0, this time it was Badri who escaped on the right, but his firm shot across goal was parried away for a corner. Soon after and South China wasted another golden opportunity, again from a corner kick. It was Chan Siu Ki who got on the end of the corner, but his free header was straight at Khairul Fahmi.
The Red Warriors, now the more energetic of the two teams were having repeated success by attacking down the right hand side, exploiting the unprotected left back of South China. On 80 minutes Forkey Doe, relishing the chance to work with a strike partner hit a stinging shot from distance which Hung Fai did well to parry.
However minutes later and the game was wrapped up by Ghaddar. Again it was Kelantan who countered down their right side, with a fine ball from deep from Badri finding the Lebanese forward in space. His fresh legs easily outpaced the defence and he cooly clipped the ball over the keeper in style.
So a 2-0 victory for Kelantan, who got their tactics spot on under coach Steve Darby. Weathering the storm in the first half before introducing his impact players in the second half was a plan that worked to perfection, and means that the Red Warriors get their AFC Cup campaign back on track.