WITH three key players down with injuries before their first round clash with Terengganu T-Team in the President Cup, more bad news awaited Penang coach Kamal Khalid.
Apart from striker Muhammad Junaidi Shafiai, defender Muhamad Redzuan Suhaidi and midfielder Mohamed Ikhmal Ibrahim, two more key players — goalkeeper G. Thamotharan Naidu and his reliable defender Muhammad Shafiq Safaruddin — joined the list when they played against the Terengganu club at the Universiti Sains Malaysia ground in Penang on Monday.
With the loss of midfield general S. Kumaaahran to the Harimau Muda ‘C’ outfit, which is currently competing in the new FAM Cup League season which kicked off recently, Penang brought in fleet-footed Mohamed Baser Napae and Elias Sulaiman but it all added up to a 4-2 defeat.
“Our injury problems are so bad, I don’t even know what to plan for our reverse fixture when the second round kicks off later in the week,” said Kamal.
He said the sudden loss of two experienced defenders in the opening minutes of the game resulted in Penang losing momentum.
“With my seniors returning to the Premier League side, it looks like I may have to depend on my reserves to carry our challenge when we make our way to the East Coast state for the start of our second round campaign,” he said.
Although Mohamed Baser managed to give Penang a smashing start by outsmarting the entire Terengganu defence before beating goalkeeper Mohamed Asraf in a one-to-one situation, their joy was a shortlived one.
Terengganu’s Muhamad Zulhanizam raced past the Penang defenders to latch onto a through pass and beat goalkeeper Muhammad Syafik Noncham, the T-Team were back on the level.
The highly inspired Terengganu side continued with their marauding ways and with the Penang defence still recovering from the setback, they confidently delivered the second blow in the 29th minute — this time from a perfectly timed header by Ahmad Takhhiyuddin off a corner.
There was no turning back for the club side and they stretched the lead just minutes into the second half, with Ahmad helping himself to a brace after firing home on the run with a cracking right footer.
Still, Penang were not prepared to throw in the towel and the moment Mohamed Baser delivered his second goal to make it 3-2 in the 51st minute, the hope of erasing a two-goal deficit looked bright especially with Elias and Amirul Syazani Roslan proving to be a constant pain to the Terengganu defence.
Their attack nearly paid off in the 70th minute when Amirul’s free kick from the top of the box had Terengganu reserve goalkeeper Mohamad Shahrunizam well beaten just minutes after he had come on for an injured Mohammad Asaf.
But to the horror of the Penang bench, Amirul’s thundering shot was hastily cleared by the Terengganu defence.
To add insult to injury, Penang caved in to goal number four just four minutes later, when Mohamed Nuralif’s well measured header off a corner, sailed over a rooted Muhammad Syafik to enable Terengganu to regain their two-goal cushion.
Maintaining that 4-2 lead right to the finish, Terengganu returned home with all three points to consolidate their third placing in the 10-team Group B, just two points adrift of leader Pahang at 18 points.
For Penang, the defeat saw them drop two rungs to eighth spot, with only eight points to show from a win and five draws after nine first-round matches.
RESULTS (Matches played on Monday)
Terengganu 1 Kedah 1; Felda United FC 2 Selangor 1; N. Sembilan 3 Perlis 0; A. Forces 3 Kelantan 3; Sarawak 2 SSTMI 2; SSMP 0 Sabah 4; Pahang 1 Police 2; Johor DT II 2 Perak 2; Kuala Lumpur 2 Malacca 3; Penang 2 PBDKT T-Team 4.
FIXTURES FOR TOMORROW
Group A: Kedah vs Terengganu (Darulaman Stadium, 4.45pm); Selangor vs Felda United FC (Padang Suk 1, Shah Alam, 4.45pm); Perlis vs Negri Sembilan (UiTM Mini Stadium, Arau, 4.45pm); Kelantan vs Armed Forces (Sultan Muhammad IV, Kota Baru, 8.45pm); SSTMI vs Sarawak (State Stadium, Kuching, 4.15pm).
Group B: Sabah vs SSMP (Likas Football Sports Complex, 4.15pm); Police vs Pahang (Police Training Centre, Jln Semarak, 4.45pm); Perak vs Johor DT II (Perak Stadium, 4.45pm); Malacca vs Kuala Lumpur (Hang Tuah Stadium, 4.45pm); PBDKT T-Team vs Penang (Gong Badak Complex, 4.45pm).