BY DARREN GOON Follow on Twitter
This was a must-win game for both sides. Penang needed the three points to keep pace with leaders PDRM FA; JDT II needed a win just to stay in the top half of the table.
Winless away from home this season, JDT II arrived at the City Stadium hampered by the suspension of top scorer Braulio Nobrega and injury to goalkeeper K. Sasikumar. Conversely, Penang are unbeaten at home, and their only notable absentee was Hilton Moreira, with Titi Buengo replacing him for his first start in three matches.
And what a start he made. Barely three minutes were on the clock when Mohd Baser Napae’s left-wing cross landed right onto Buengo’s head, and the Angolan striker easily nodded the ball past JDT II goalkeeper Judtanna a/l Eh Put to give Penang FA the lead.
The Panthers proceeded to dominate much of the possession, with the midfielders in particular showing some nice passing moves. Captain Azizan Baba and Gil-Hoon both had attempts from distance fumbled away by Judtanna during a spell of Penang pressure.
JDT II hit back on the half-hour mark, as Mohd Azinee Taib had a sharp shot parried by Penang goalkeeper G. Jeevananthan. Almost immediately, Azinee tried again, this time cutting inside from the left wing to strike a curler past Jeevananthan. Fortunately for Penang, it pinged off the bar, to safety.
Hearts were in mouths a minute later, as Jeevananthan’s handling skills were again called into question by Izuan Jarudin’s lofted ball. He caught it on the line, but his next attempt wouldn’t be so lucky.
In the 44th minute, Delmonte found Azinee in space with a cross-field ball. His harmless-looking cross from the left appeared to be too close to the goalkeeper, and Jeevananthan leapt up to grab it. However, the ball somehow slipped from his grasp, falling to a surprised Shahril Ishak, who gleefully tapped it into an empty net. Both teams went in for half-time tied at 1-1.
The second half brought torrential rain, and renewed focus for Penang, with Gil-Hoon and Rafiuddin Roddin soon trying their luck from distance, but Judtanna was untroubled.
Their persistence paid off in the 55th minute when Mohd Zamri Chin’s pass to Buengo was knocked first-time to Gil-Hoon just inside JDT II’s box. He had time to look up and slot the ball into the bottom corner to restore Penang’s lead.
JDT II’s midfield were stringing some good passes together, but Penang’s defence stood firm, with Yong Kuong Yong in particular proving to be a rock at the back. The Panthers quickly moved the ball forward, and a good spell of pressure saw Judtanna save well from Gil-Hoon and Zamri’s shots on target.
In the 73rd minute, Jeevananthan did well to push a Shahril Ishak free-kick over the bar. Many of the Southern Tigers’ attempts were off target, and Penang made them pay with a swift counter-attack. Buengo flicked a long-ball on to Shazuan Ashraf, who cooly scored past Judtanna to give his side a 2-goal cushion.
Ten minutes from time, good wing-play by Gil-Hoon on the left saw him chip a cross to Buengo, and he beat his two markers to nod past Judtanna again.
With an unassailable 4-1 lead, K. Devan introduced G. Mahathevan and Norizam Salaman as Penang started to slow things down. The City Stadium was buoyant, and even Jeevananthan received a round of applause after catching a lofted ball in the 88th minute.
To the victor, go the spoils. Penang FA catch up with leaders PDRM FA, but JDT II drop further from fourth to seventh as the league reaches its half-way mark.
Despite his team’s lofty position, K. Devan refused to get carried away, insisting that “It’s still much too early to say, as we have just finished the first round of matches. The most important thing for us is to focus game-by-game, and concentrate on collecting three points for every match.”