ATM showed how much they missed their suspended key players, despite doggedly coming back from being two goals down.
The Malaysian Super League resumed after a two-week international break, and the league leaders ATM went into the curcial match wanting to capitalise on their rivals Selangor’s inability to win against Felda earlier in the day.
But they had to play without several Shukor Adan, G. Jeevananthan, Fitri Omar and R. Surendran, who were under suspension, meaning that they had to play last year’s treble winners with a severly depleted squad.
The Gladiators had a glorious chance to take an early lead just two minutes into the game, when they received a penalty. However, it was obvious that they were under immense pressure, as the usually reliable Marlon James failed to convert the penalty.
The miss started to shake ATM’s confidence, and they began committing mistakes on the soggy pitch, perhaps an indication of how sorely they missed the experience of their suspended key players.
It was one of these mistakes that led to Kelantan’s first goal.
A poor back pass from A. Varanthan meant that goalkeeper Farizal Harun’s had to come off his line to clear the ball as Kelantan striker Keita Mandjou was also bearing down on it. Farizal managed to clear it but could not to return back to his position in time as the ball dropped right to Indra Putra, allowing him to slot it into the empty goal.
Just five minutes later, another back pass on the wet field, this time from Irwan Fadzli, eluded Farizal altogether. Mandjou was able to pounce on it, to make it 2-0 for the Red Warriors, a goal which may perhaps spark a change in the mind of Kelantan's management when they consider finding his replacement in this coming April transfer window.
ATM then started attacking more aggressively, and in the 40th minute Venice Elphi almost pulled one back from a brilliant Bruno Martelotto pass, but Khairul Fahmi was more than equal to it.
At the start of the second half, Mandjou had an excellent chance to double his tally for the night, being put through by a Badhri Radzi's through pass, but he failed to beat Farizal who did well to close him down.
In the second half, ATM did find their first goal of the night. A free kick just outside Kelantan’s penalty box was put into the wall by Marlon James, but the ball squirmed through and deceptively ricocheted beyond Khairul Fahmi’s grasp to sail into the net in the 57th minute.
Kelantan almost managed to distance themselves with a two-goal lead again in the 60th minute when Badhri Radzi put Indra Putra through with a chipped through pass, but he was flagged offside.
They missed a slew of chances after this, something they must have regretted that when ATM equalised in the 68th minute.
A free kick was floated into the Kelantan penalty box and Hairuddin Omar rose first to head the ball across the goalmouth, despite Khairul Fahmi getting a touch to it, he could only push it into the path of James who did not miss despite Obinna Nwaneri’s challenge.
If the first half was Khairul Fahmi’s time, the second half was ATM goalkeeper Farizal’s time to shine. He produced save after save to keep ATM in the game, and without his acrobatics, ATM would definitely have not been able to get back in the game with the two goals.
Kelantan kept on attacking, perhaps not wanting to come back with just a draw after having led with two goals, but their forwards kept getting flagged for offside. Coach Bojan Hodak seemingly had enough of the referee after yet another offside call and reacted towards the fourth official, which duly caused him to be booked.
Even when their coach was losing his cool, the Kelantan players weren’t. Just one minute from the final whistle, a long pass found substitute striker Norfarhan who was left unmarked with acres of space on the right. He too managed to keep his cool to chip the ball over Farizal and into the net, to restore their lead and bring home all three points to Kota Bharu.