The Panthers emerge triumphant from a closely-contested match to keep the pressure on Felda United in the race for promotion
BY DARREN GOON Follow on Twitter
With FA Cup finalists Felda United ending league leaders PDRM’s 18-game unbeaten record earlier in the afternoon, Penang knew that only victory would suffice against Negri Sembilan in order to stay in contention for second spot, and promotion to the Super League in 2015.
The Panthers started brightly, as their leading scorer Lee Gil-Hoon struck the post with a curling free-kick just five minutes into play. Penang started to control the ball, with the highlight being a nice give-and-go between Elias Sulaiman and Rafiuddin Roddin after twenty minutes that was thwarted by a defender.
Almost immediately after, a cross from right-back A. Varathan landed at the feet of Gil-Hoon. The South Korean shifted with his first touch to lose Fauzi Nan, and thrashed it past Badrulzaman Abdul Halim with his second, to give Penang the lead.
The visitors responded with attempts by Abdul Halim and Ivan Babic that sailed just wide of G. Jeevananthan’s far post. They eventually equalized in the 29th minute thanks to a lovely through-ball that set Kim Jin-Ryong free. The South Korean striker held off Varathan and shot high past Jeevananthan to draw his team level.
Their lead lasted only a minute. Titi Buengo threaded a through-ball of his own to Gil-Hoon, who squirmed a shot under the goalkeeper for his second of the night to return Penang’s lead. It remained 2-1 at the break.
The Jangs were revitalised in the second-half, testing Jeevananthan with stinging shots from Shoufiq Khusaini and Jean-Marc Alexandre right after the restart. Penang returned fire immediately via a header from captain Azizan Baba that was cleared off the line, while Elias Sulaiman’s powerful shot was parried away by Badrulzaman, as the game started to open up.
Both teams continued to trade punches in an exciting spell, with Babic and Gil-Hoon both having shots saved by their opposing goalkeepers. With twenty minutes remaining, Lee Kwang-Hyun reacted brilliantly to head a long-range blast by Negri Sembilan captain Norhafiz Zamani Misbah over the bar.
Previously the scapegoat when Penang weren’t doing well, Jeevananthan has successfully won over the Keramat faithful with his recent performances. He further endeared himself to fans by reliably catching everything and anything that was sent his way, even performing a one-handed save from Kim’s blast at goal.Negri continued to search for another equalizer, but found Penang’s defence too tough to crack. Gil-Hoon had the last chance of the game, finishing off a brilliant counter-attack with a shimmy and shot, but it was straight at Badrulzaman, and his hat-trick was denied. The referee blew for full-time seconds later, and Penang won 2-1 to keep up with Felda, while also qualifying for an automatic spot in the 2014 Malaysia Cup.