BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Pahang strolled past bottom-placed Pulau Pinang in their Super League match at the Darulmakmur Stadium on Saturday, thumping the visitors 6-1.
The second-placed Elephants were definitely looking for a win in order to try and wrest the league top spot from Kedah, who were playing away to Kelantan at the same time. The Panthers meanwhile wanted to stop the rut, to arrest their four-match defeat and goalless streaks.
Pahang boss Dollah Salleh made several changes to his side. Ashari Samsudin was handed a rare start up front alongside Matheus Alves. The injured Kiko Insa was not listed in the matchday squad due to injury, as was Nigerian forward Bright Dike.
Pulau Pinang manager Ashley Westwood, who was not on the bench due to his touchline ban, picked all four of his foreign players, including Papua New Guinea international Nigel Dabingyaba, who scored the Panthers first goal of the season on Tuesday, in their FA Cup tie.
Coincidentally, almost one year ago, both teams also faced off in the league, but with Pulau Pinang as the hosts. It was in that match that Faiz Subri scored his Puskas Award-winning freekick. This time around however, the midfielder started the match from the bench.
The tempo of the match was a little stilted in the beginning, due to the heavy late afternoon rain that thankfully stopped just before the match, but still waterlogged the pitch somewhat.
Mahamadou Sumareh opened the scoring in the 16th minute, in a somewhat comical fashion. A low cross from the right by Alves to him was contained by the Panthers' defenders, but the ball stayed in between them and goalkeeper Sani Anuar Kamsani, and the Gambian lunged at the ball, knocking it into the net.
Just eight minutes later, they doubled their lead. Receiving a short pass on the left of the visitors' penalty area, winger Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria brought the ball a short distance inside, before striking from a narrow angle. It went in and the scoreline was 2-0. Sani shouldered the brunt of the blame for this goal, for not reacting fast enough to block the shot.
But if Pahang thought it was going to be a walk over, they had another thing coming. At the half hour mark, Pulau Pinang pulled one back through none other than Dabingyaba. A long freekick found Fereira on the right of the edge of the Pahang penalty area, and he headed the ball towards the Papuan on the left. The 24-year old smartly guided the ball in towards the far post with his head.
Alves could have restored the two-goal lead in the 35th minute when he was put on through by a defence-splitting pass, but his try was nowhere near the target.
Despite a couple more chances had by Pahang, they could not put them away and the first half ended 2-1.
In the 56th minute, Pahang goalkeeper Wan Azraie almost made a mess of his attempt to intercept a Pulau Pinang lobbed through pass outside his box. He managed to head the ball away, but the clearance fell to another opponent, who lobbed him while he was stranded in no man's land. Luckily centre back Afif Amiruddin was there to make an on-the-line clearance.
Although their lead was slender, Pahang initially looked reluctant to widen the margin, with their passes going astray and attempts missing the target on multiple occasions.
Only in the 66th minute did the Elephants manage to make it three. Joseph Kalang Tie, who came on just a minute earlier to replace Ahmad Syamim Yahya, made instant impact. He was in the right place and the right time to receive a pass from Soumareh at the edge of the Pulau Pinang box, and curled the ball in past Sani's grasp. But make no mistake, although it was the former Sarawak man's name who went on the scoresheet, it was Soumareh's perseverance that led to the goal. He practically wrestled his way through the Pulau Pinang defence, before feeding the unmarked Joseph.
Alves finally found his first of the match, and Pahang's fourth, just six minutes later. The Brazilian leapt the highest in the box to nod in a freekick from the right.
A minute later, 2016 Puskas Awards winner Faiz Subri was brought on, as replacement for G. Mahathevan.
Six minutes from the end of fulltime, Ashari made it 6-1with a quick double.
Towards the end of the match a freekick was given to the visitors outside the Pahang box. Faiz stepped up to take it, but this time his attempt went disappointingly straight into the wall.
But despite the win, Pahang were not able to retake the league top spot, as Kedah were reported to have just beaten Kelantan 1-0 with a late penalty.
Pahang: Azraie (GK), Faisal, Won Heo, Afif, Davies (C), Syamim (Joseph 64'), Azam, Zaharulnizam (Salomon 78'), Soumareh (Faisal Halim 89'), Ashari, Alves.
Pulau Pinang: Sani (GK), Mafry, Lobo (C), Russell, Zulkhairi, Kumaahran (Syamer 34'), Syukur, Mahathevan (Faiz 73'), Fereira, Faizat, Nigel.