The first leg of the Malaysia FA Cup semi-final was as open and entertaining a game seen this season, with Kelantan recovering from three goals down to claim a draw
BY MARK DAWSON
The first half was one of the most action filled halves seen in Malaysian football during 2014, with Felda relentless for the opening 40 minutes before Kelantan were able to get a foothold in the game in the closing stages.
For much of the first period Kelantan were run ragged by a dynamic Felda attacking line-up. As early as the fourth minute Zah Rahan displayed his trickery as he left Nik Shahrul for dead before bursting into the area, however he dragged his low strike wide with no teammate able to get a touch on it.
The Red Warriors frequently looked all over the place, unable to regroup as Felda poured forward. The visitors had the ball in the net on 15 minutes after Rahan converted Solihin Kanasian's centre across goal, however he was correctly flagged offside.
It only took a further two minutes for Felda to take a well deserved lead, and again Kelantan's backline could not cope with the power and movement of the Settlers forwards. This time it was Shahrul who got too close to Edward Wilson in the area, allowing himself to be cleverly turned by the Liberian forward, who then beat Khairul Fahmi at his near post.
Kelantan barely had chance to catch their breath before the score became 0-2 on 25 minutes. This time it was Rahan skinning Brendan Gan down the left-hand side before putting a pinpoint cross onto the head of former Kelantan favorite Indra Putra who made no mistake with a firm header past Fahmi.
While the home team looked utterly disjointed, unable to cope with the movement of the Felda front four, credit must go to the visitors who never allowed them to settle. Central midfielders Syahid Zaidon and Solihin Kanasian set the tone, with all action performances that opposition manager George Boateng would have been proud of. While Francis Forkey Doe worked hard in attack for the Red Warriors, he received little support from teammates against a rock solid Felda backline.
Kelantan did fashion their first opportunity on 33 minutes as a good cross to the far post by Wan Zaharulnizam was met by Brendan Gan, but despite being under no pressure he headed wide. Three minutes later and this miss seemed more costly as Khairul Ismail made it 0-3. He reacted quickest to Edward Wilson's header across goal after an Indra Putra delivery, tapping into an empty net to punish more poor Kelantan defending.
However on 36 minutes Kelantan pulled a goal back out of nothing following good work by Badri Radzi. The captain marvel dropped deep to receive the ball before threading a precise through ball to Forkey Doe who confidently stroked home his first chance of the game.
Two minutes before the interval and unbelievably Kelantan halved the deficit as Felda threatened to implode and ruin all the good work of the first 40 minutes. This time it was Fakri Saarani who got on the scoresheet, heading home following a teasing Zairul Fitree set piece, however Felda could consider themselves extremely unfortunate as there seemed to be no infringement by Yaroslav Krushelnitskiv who was the man harshly penalized by the referee.
After such a sluggish start to the game, Kelantan looked a team transformed at the beginning of the second half, and it was little surprise that they were level within seven minutes. This time Forkey Doe was the creator, with a fine lofted through ball into the area which Zahararulnizam raced onto, and the youngster struck a clever lob over Farizal Harun to complete a remarkable comeback.
While the Settlers looked shell shocked, they were still a danger on the break. On 60 minutes Edward again beat Farisham Ismail all too easily, his resulting cutback from the byline was spilled out by Fahmi however Indra couldn't capitalize, blazing over the rebound. Not long after this it was Felda keeper Farizal Harun who had to be on his toes, beating out a firm Zairul Fitree strike after he linked well with Forkey Doe.
Predictably the final 30 minutes of the game could not live up to the excitement of the first 60, with few clear cut chances, despite both defences looking vulnerable. It seemed as if Indra Putra had scored the winner in the final minute as he sprung the offside trap and rounded Khairul Fahmi, however much to his disbelief Nik Shahrul appeared out of nowhere to clear his certain goal off the line and ensure the game finished 3-3.