In stark contrast to the Super League match between the same two teams on the same pitch just over a month ago, the FA Cup semi-final first leg at Darul Makmur Stadium turned out to be a real cracker with both teams owning large moments of the match but a 3-1 home win for Pahang sees them as the favourites to reach the 2019 final.
Pahang dominated right from the opening whistle and took a 2-0 lead at half time through the efforts of Herold Goulon (12') and Mohamadou Sumareh (39'). Perak recovered after the half time break to pull a goal back through J. Partiban (54') but another Goulon goal in the third minute of added time in the second half gives Pahang a massive two goals lead heading into next week's return fixture in Ipoh.
Goal picks out five things from an action-packed match on Saturday night.
Super with Nwakaeme, not so much without
There was only one team in the game from the first whistle until one unfortunate substitution in the first half due to injury. In the 30-odd minutes that Dickson Nwakaeme was on the pitch, he was the leader and inspiration in Pahang being the dominant force in the match. Perak just could not catch a breather in the match as waves and waves of attack came their way.
The Nigerian is proving that despite having a year out of football, when he's in the mood, he can be an unstoppable force. Hussein El Dor was having all sorts of trouble trying to deal with the muscular forward and that meant Brendan Gan and Leandro dos Santos had to drop deeper to give the added protection, which meant Perak conceding control to Pahang.
What happened in the 60 minutes thereafter showed Pahang's reliance on Nwakaeme. His right thigh did not hold up and Saddil Ramdani was called to replace him in the 31st minute. That gave Perak their way back into the match while Pahang were reduced to a secondary role in their own home. The 33-year-old has had trouble with injuries this season and Pahang are proving that they are a different side without him.
Two halves of the same coin
If a football match is determined by what happened in each half as it's own factor, then this match would have been called a draw. As much as Pahang owned the first half, the second half belonged to Perak. Safuwan Baharudin and Nor Azam Azih had the midfield under control and were lording all over Perak's engine room.
But having taken a 2-0 lead, Pahang relaxed their hold on the match and the visitors came out a very different side in the second half. Mehmet Durakovic's team were constantly getting numerical advantage in attacks but poor decisions in the final third cost them dearly as they should have more than just the one goal to show for their efforts.
Partiban was particular of threat on the right hand side with Ronaldo Henrique Silva finally being able to offer some link play in the match with Raianderson de Costa Morais. Nor Hakim Hassan was far less efficient on the night but he did helped create the opening for Partiban to score.
Eroding form that needs arresting
When it looked like despite an away defeat, Perak had taken an away goal and with only a goal behind, advantage would be on their side in the second leg with just seconds to spare. But Hafizul Hakim somehow conspired to allow Pahang to steal one more goal late on and completely changed the complexion of the tie.
Goulon step up to take the free kick just inside his own half and was aiming more for the corner flag than towards goal. But as luck would have it, a back-peddling Hafizul misjudged the flight of the ball and the gift-wrapped the third goal to the home side, more signs that Hafizul is facing a real fight for confidence on his hands.
2019 has not been a vintage season for the 26-year-old Hafizul who has made a series of errors, some more costly than others. Durakovic has shown his willingness to stick by Hafizul and perhaps the custodian can still ride out this crisis of confidence but questions will have to be asked if it time on the bench would help Hafizul even more.
Much ado about nothing
In a way that both teams lost control of the match in each half, the match officials also will not be looking back at the match with too much fondness. There were far too much argy-bargy in the match leading up to constant need for medical attention which caused too many stoppages and disruptions for the game to flow.
While there were several Pahang players who got involved throughout the match, from the Perak end matters seemed to revolved around Leandro dos Santos. There were certainly plenty of gamesmanship going around and the referee did very little to stifle things, thus allowing the unnecessary to fester on and repeating.
Levelling up requires more consistency
The main takeaway from this match is the consistency or rather, the lack of it from all aspects of the game, players and officials. Pahang are currently the second placed team in the Super League and closest challenger to Johor Darul Ta'zim while Perak were in Pahang's shoes last season but both have shown that they are still missing the vital ingredient to be a real rival to JDT.
On their day with their best players available, both Pahang and Perak are more than capable of not only facing up to JDT but also beat the reigning Super League champions in a one-off match. Yet the inability to find real consistency in their game from week to week has meant the disintegration of any viable title challenge leading up to the tail-end of a season.
Perhaps it's the make-up of respective squads not having enough depth and until then, both teams will find it hard to find consistency when more established players are struggling for form and the lesser knowns are unable to make the step up to compensate.
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