PENANG got off to a dream start on their return to the Premier League by defeating Sabah 3-1 in their opening match.
The Panthers, who earned promotion to the second-tier league in the FAM Cup challenge last season, came from behind to earn the victory to the delight of their home fans at the City Stadium in Penang.
The fans, numbering about 10,000, lit flares and danced and sang on the street outside the stadium to celebrate the victory on Friday.
The visitors drew first blood in the match in the 10th minute.
A well-measured cross from Mohammad Ezaidy found Mohamed Rozaimi Abdul Rahman bolting home from inside the box, to pass a sprawling Penang goalkeeper G. Jeevanathan.
That goal forced the Panthers to go on overdrive, with South Korean striker Lee Gil Hoon being a thorn on the side for the Sabah defence as they searched for the equaliser.
Their efforts nearly paid dividends in the 28th minute when Muhammad Rafiuddin’s hefty header beat Sabah goalkeeper Mohamed Fazli Paat only to be denied by the woodwork.
The Panthers were rewarded for their tireless efforts at the stroke of half time.
A free kick by Mohamad Zharif Hasna saw Sabah skipper Rosdin Wasli beating Penang’s Mohamed Azizan Baba to the ball in an aerial challenge but his glancing header landed at the back of his own net.
Whetted by that first strike, the Penang players return in the second half hungry for more goals and they found the net again 15 minutes into the half through the combination of two foreign imports.
An alert Brazilian hitman Hilton Mauro Moreira swooped in to add the finishing touches to a 25m free kick by Gil Hoon after the pile driver was not cleanly caught by Mohamed Fazli.
Before the Sabahans could recover from the setback, the Panthers delivered the third blow just three minutes later.
Mohamed Shazuan raced past the entire Sabah defence to meet a neat through pass fed by Ismail Suboh before he himself made a square pass to a lurking Mohammad Zharif, who dribbled past a charging Mohamed Fazli to tuck the ball into a yawning goalmouth in the 63rd minute.
Coach K. Devan described the win as a big relief, especially with the high expectations of the home fans.
“It was not easy taking into consideration it being a season opener. Thus to be able to bounce back from a jittery start for a convincing victory, is simply fantastic,” he said, adding that the win had provided the team with the much-needed confidence to face tougher opponents.
Sabah coach Seslija Milomir said the Panthers were lucky to win the match,
“We practically matched them in all departments only to fall victim to our own follies. While their equaliser was one from an own goal by our skipper Rosdin, they did well to exploit our mistakes to carve out the other two goals,” said Milomir.
The Panthers were not the only side to have made Penang proud. Club outfit Penang Water Authority (PBAPP FC) though made to share the spoils on the season’s opening day, did well to hold lavish-spending Felda United to a 1-1 draw at the Kelana Jaya Stadium.