BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Kedah wrested the Super League top spot away from Pahang, after they defeated the Elephants 4-1 at the Darul Aman Stadium on Saturday. Their goals were scored by Baddrol Bakhtiar and Farhan Roslan, as well as Ken Ilso's double. Pahang's consolation goal was scored by Matheus Alves towards the end of the match.
Both teams' coaches realised the importance of the match, and took the risk by fielding players who were not 100% free from injury.
Red Eagles boss Tan Cheng Hoe fielded Rizal Ghazali, while Pahang's Dollah Salleh made a last-minute call to include skipper Matthew Davies and Kiko Insa.
Both head coaches took no chances and fielded their best players. Ifwat Akmal was the man between the sticks for the home side, Khairul Helmi led the team from the centre back position, and all four of their foreign players starting the match.
All Pahang's foreign players also started the match, as did defender Afif Amiruddin, and wingers Syamim Yahya and Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria.
The match turned physical from the get go, with Krasniqi getting on the receiving end of two separate fouls within the space of just three minutes. Only five minutes have passed when Pahang midfielder Mohamadou Soumareh was booked for a clumsy challenge on Akram Mahinan.
Insa missed a glolden chance to give the league leaders the lead in the 11th minute. He managed to leap and connect well with a freekick from the right with his head, but the attempt went over the crossbar instead.
However nothing much happened in the 20 minutes or so, as both teams' midfield departments failed to maintain possession long enough to threaten their opponents.
In the 36th minute Kedah winger Syazwan Zainon dribbled past his Malaysia teammate Davies down the left touchline before cutting back into the penalty area, but his subsequent attempt was blocked by a defender.
Three minutes later it was Soumareh's turn again, following on a rebound with a grounder shot, aimed at the far bottom corner. However Ifwat managed to dive down and tip the ball away from the goalmouth in time.
When Ken Ilso was fouled at the edge of the Pahang box three minutes from the halftime whistle, Sandro stepped up to take the freekick. His shot was accurate, curling past the wall and heading towards the right, but Pahang goalkeeper Wan Azraei Wan Teh never took his eyes off the ball and caught the ball safely.
A minute later Rizal Ghazali received the second booking of the match, for committing a professional foul on Wan Zaharulnizam, in order to stop a Pahang counter attacking move.
The hosts finally broke the deadlock, just as the clock turned 45. Ilso laid off Krasniqi at the edge of the Pahang box, and the Kosovar in turn laid off Baddrol Bakhtiar on his right. Baddrol finished it with flourish, sending the ball into the far bottom corner past several Pahang defenders and goalkeeper.
The Elephants had a chance to equalise immediately through a freekick moments before the halftime whistle was blown, but Zaharulnizam could not finish off the set piece accurately, his shot from outside the box blazed over the crossbar.
Four minutes into the second half, Ilso finished a scintillating series of passing by Kedah with a shot from the right of the Pahang penalty box, but his attempt had more power than accuracy, and it ended on the wrong side of the post.
Cheng Hoe then changed midfielders, bringing on Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik for Akram Mahinan. At the hour mark, he took off Syazwan for youngster Farhan Roslan.
In the 66th minute Ilso doubled the Red Eagles' lead, finishing a pass, again by Krasniqi, by sending the ball into the far bottom corner. Azraei got a hand to the placed shot, but did not put enough power into his block to push the ball away from the goalmouth.
Such was Krasniqi's importance to the team, that he had been on the receiving end of several fouls by Pahang players, and would go on to suffer a few more for the rest of the match.
Pahang forward Bright Dike could have pulled one back minutes later, but his audacious scissors kick went wide.
Kedah compounded Pahang's misery in the 74th minute, this time through substitute Farhan's goal. A corner kick found Zac Anderson at the far post, but the Australian simply laid off the youngster with his header. Farhan converted his chance with a low shot.
One minute before the end of full time, Pahang forward Matheus Alves found a consolation goal for the visitors, a low shot into the far bottom corner past Ifwat's grasp.
However Kedah were not done, as Ilso added his second of the night in injury time, after he was sent through by substitute Fakri Saarani.
The match ended 4-1
The thumping extended Kedah's undefeated start to the season to four matches, while it was Pahang's first defeat of the season. It also shot the homeside from the third spot in the league, to snatch the lead away from Pahang.
Kedah : Ifwat Akmal (GK), Fitri Omar, Zac Anderson, Khairul Helmi Johari (C), Rizal Ghazali, Liridon Krasniqi, Akram Mahinan (Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik 49'), Syazwan Zainon (Farhan Roslan 60'), Baddrol Bakhtiar (Fakri Saarani 78'), Ken Ilso Larsen, Sandro.
Pahang : Wan Azraei (GK), Faisal Rosli, Jae Won Heo, Afif Amiruddin, Matthew Davies (C), Syamim Yahya, Kiko Insa (Nor Azam Abdul Azih 84'), Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria (Ashari Samsudin 72'), Mohamadou Soumareh, Matheus Alves, Bright Dike.