BY I.F. WONG Follow on Twitter
Patrick “Ronaldinho” Wleh finally repaid the faith Selangor coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has shown in him by scoring two goals and assisting another as the Klang Valley team put Pahang FC to the sword at the Darul Makmur Stadium. Wleh, criticised in some quarters for some lacklustre displays in a Selangor shirt before tonight, showed the Red Giants' fans why the Selangor FA (FAS) decided to take the 25-year-old on from PKNS, with a terrorising display which left the Pahang defence dazed.
Zainal pulled off a surprise by benching the in-form Norazlan Razali in favour of handing Khairul Azhan a home-coming start in goal. Razman Roslan made the team after shaking off a hamstring strain and R. Gopinathan started for Selangor for the first time. Together with Hafiz Kamal, all four ex-Pahang players featured for the Red Giants. Pahang coach Ahmad Shaharuddin Rosli, on the other hand, left Dalibor Volas and Faizal Abdul Rani on the bench in favour of Rizua Sahfiqi up front.
If the final outcome looked comfortable for Selangor, the first 20 minutes were anything but smooth sailing as Pahang’s pace and enthusiasm unsettled Selangor into committing errors. In the eighth minute, Pahang’s Argentinean forward German Pacheco was put clear on goal, but saw his effort hit the bar with Khairul Azhan beaten. Pahang were not to be denied five minutes later when a quickly taken free-kick led to Pacheco releasing a rather weak scuffed shot on goal. The ball rebounded off the Selangor keeper into the path of Faisal Halim who duly dispatched home to give Tok Gajah a deserved lead. Khairul Azhan will be disappointed with his part in the goal.
At this point Pacheco’s movement was causing a nervous Selangor all sorts of problems while Wleh looked as lethargic as he has been in previous games. The home side, however, were unable to add to their advantage and Selangor slowly crept back into the game.
Andik Vermansah, another player who has been out of sorts by his standards, started to find space on the right flank and on 24 minutes fired in from a tight angle which Pahang shot-stopper Mohd Nasril Nourdin did well to tip over the bar. That served as a warning as Andik again beat his marker on the right and whipped in a cross that caused chaos in the Pahang six-yard area. After a scramble, the ball fell kindly for Wleh who tapped the ball in for the equaliser eight minutes shy of half-time.
That goal seemed to give the Liberian forward a huge boost and he found the sort of confidence that has been deserting him thus far in a Selangor shirt. Just before the break, running on to a through ball, Wleh brushed aside Matthew Davies’ challenge to coolly slot the ball past Nasril. 2-1 to Selangor at half-time.
The Red Giants started the second half where they left off in the first with Patrick Wleh tormenting Zesh Rehman and co. with his runs and strength. One such example was in the 48th minute when Wleh barged his way through the Pahang rear guard only to be denied at the last by a Davies interception.
With Zainal’s men dominating the game, Mauro Olivi and Gopinathan were getting more and more involved in attack. Gopi blasted a long-ranger that was well saved by Nasril after 50 minutes. His cross later found Olivi unmarked at the back post but the Argentinian headed wide of Nasril’s goal.
Zainal knew that his team needed to another goal to put the game to bed and that duly came courtesy of a swift counter-attack just after the hour. Wleh found himself one-on-one with Rehman and the Liberian easily held his opponent off to square the ball for Gopinathan to score from two yards into an unguarded goal.
The game was over as a contest though Pahang, in their desperation, did manage to carve out a couple of openings before the end. Pacheco, Pahang’s most effective player, was again denied by a fine save by Khairul Azhan in the 71st minute to make up for the latter’s error in the home team’s goal.
The victory was easily Selangor’s most convincing performance under Zainal and if Wleh can maintain his form, Zainal’s team look the most likely to trouble all-conquering Johor Darul Ta'zim though league leaders Felda may have something to say about that.
For Pahang, unless they tighten their defence, a long hard season seems on the cards for them.
Pahang: 1 (Faisal Halim 13th min)
Selangor: 3 (Patrick Wleh 37th, 44th min; Gopinathan 66th min)
Pahang: Nasril, Davies, Potokar, Rehman, Shahrizan, Saarvindran (Volas 80th min), Shahamirul, Pacheco, Helmi, Faisal Halim, Shafiqi.
Selangor: Khairul, Raimi, Shahrom, Razman, Azrif (Bunyamin 87th min), Nazmi, Hafiz, Andik (Veenod 85th min), Gopinathan, Olivi (Saiful 94th min), Wleh.