BY DARREN GOON Follow on Twitter
K. Devan heads the home dugout now. On the opposing bench was the team he coached in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) last season, the team who until mid-December 2013, still had him under contract, despite relieving him of his duties midway through the 2013 season.
He might not have recognized them, as Felda United’s starting eleven were all signed after his departure. Chief of them was Edward Junior Wilson, the latest Liberian to set the M-League alight, as well as veterans Shukor Adan, Shahrulnizam Mustapa, and indra Putra Mahayuddin.
Wilson is the league’s top scorer with 5 goals so far, but it was another African forward who struck first.
Titi Buengo isn’t the most popular Penang player, but he showed what he could do by going on a brilliant solo run into the box, his stocky build helping him bustle past four Felda defenders before nudging the ball past the onrushing Mohd Farizal Harun to give Penang the lead in the 4th minute.
Felda responded immediately, as Wilson shot just over the bar following a headed assist from Indra Putra. The Liberian was the first-half’s brightest spark, creating many opportunities in tandem with his compatriot Zah Rahan Krangar, who hit the post in the 32nd minute after Wilson’s run took a defender away. Jeevananthan had to make several important saves to preserve Penang’s lead.
Titi cut an increasingly frustrated figure up front, as Penang soaked up the Settlers’ pressure, with Shahrulnizam pulling the strings in midfield. However, the Panthers ended the half strongly after captain Azizan Baba’s shot was saved by Mohd Farizal. Felda got a shock on the stroke of half-time when Indra Putra headed a Zharif Hasna free-kick against his own bar!
Jeevananthan did not reappear for the second half after Amir Omar Khata replaced him, for his first appearance of the season.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Amir was soon picking the ball out of his net. In the 49th minute, Indra Putra’s shot rebounded off a defender back to him, and he cooly slotted the ball past Amir. 1-1!
The crowd got excited as a swift Penang counter-attack saw Farizal rush off his line to block a Lee Gil-Hoon shot. Spotting the goalkeeper off his line, Rafiuddin Roddin’s attempted chip was blocked by a defender.
Felda continued exerting pressure on Penang’s midfield, and K. Devan tried to inject some pace by introducing Baser Napae for Hariri Saifi, a winger for a left-back.
However, Felda immediately broke forward, and Amir reacted well to push Krangar’s free-kick onto the post. The Settlers proceeded to pitch their tent in the Penang half, with Amir the only thing keeping Penang in the game. He made save after save from Indra Putra, Krangar, and Wilson, as the Panthers seemed to run out of energy.
Felda were relentless with their pressing, and Krangar managed a final long-range shot in injury time which sailed wide, to the relief of the stadium.
As the final whistle blew, it finished 1-1. There would be no victory on Penang soil for Irfan Bakti today, though his team came very, very close.