AFTER eight agonising weeks, Penang finally ended their winless streak in the ongoing President Cup competition. The victory was a relief for the players and officials.
Penang collected all three points, edging Gambang Sports School of Pahang (SSMP) 2-1 in a second round match at the Universiti Sains Malaysia Stadium.
To the home fans who had turned up at the stadium in Penang, that outright win finally gave them something to cheer about and enabled them to troop home knowing that their young Penang players have finally avenged the defeat SSMP inflicted in the season opener in January.
But to coach Kamal Khalid, it was more than just vengeance.
The former national centre back, who had been wearing a worried look on his face, could finally afford a smile.
“It might be just a simple win but it’s enough to remove the stress which had been hovering over the entire team each time we lose.
“I’m confident the worst is finally over and we should go into the final stages with our heads held high,” said Kamal.
Kamal’s confidence received a bigger boost with news of the return of his key players, skipper Tunku Noor Hidayat and centre back Muhammad Redzuan Suhaidi.
The duo were out of action for the past three weeks and would be ready for action when they travel to Malacca for an away assignment at the Hang Tuah Stadium on Thursday.
However, if Penang’s first half performance is to be used as a yardstick, then Kamal’s dream of a turnaround for Penang should materialise.
As if they were fully exploiting the home ground advantage during the recent encounter, the young Sports School lads had a firm grip in midfield with skipper Mohamed Junaidi Shafiai providing their strikers Muhamad Azmi and Amirul Syazani with the much-needed support.
Their continued pressure told on the Gambang Sports School defence after 20 minutes. Although SSMP goalkeeper Muhammad Azri Mohamad did enough to stop a Muhammad Azmi attempt, his failure to catch cleanly the shot saw a lurking Amirul swooping in to put Penang in the lead.
The goal triggered Penang and they came back hunting for more but were unlucky to be denied a second goal in the 34th minute.
Although Muhamad Azmi finally beat Muhammad Azri again with a well placed shot, it was disallowed after he was ruled offside.
However, Penang were not to be denied a more comfortable lead at the breather and it was Amirul again at the stroke of half-time.
Freed by Mohamed Junaidi, the speedy Amirul raced past the entire SSMP defence and the moment he volleyed the ball over a charging Muhammad Azri, it confirmed his brace and put Penang two up in the process.
SSMP were not prepared to throw in the towel and with Penang opting to defend their two-goal lead, the Pahang boys continued their relentless attacks.
That spelt trouble for the homesters and the Pahang boys managed to pull a goal back just five minutes into the second half.
SSMP striker Kogileswaran Raj was allowed to display his skills and his placing shot gave newly acquired goalkeeper Muhammad Hazrul no chance of preventing it from dancing the back of the net.
Only SSMP lack of a more deadly finishing denied them of a precious point.
RESULTS (Group A): SSTMI 0 Kelantan 1; A. Forces 1 Perlis 1; N. Sembilan 0 Selangor 0; Felda United 1 Terengganu 1; Kedah 0 Sarawak 1.
Group B: T-Team 0 Malacca 0; K. Lumpur 0 Perak 3; Police 1 Johor 2; Sabah 2 Pahang 0; Penang 2 SSMP 1.
FIXTURES FOR THURSDAY
Group A: Kelantan vs Sarawak (Sultan Mohd IV Stadium, Kota Baru, 4.45pm); Perlis vs SS Tunku Mahkota Ismail (UiTM Mini Stadium, Arau, 4.45pm); Selangor vs Armed Forces (Shah Alam Stadium, 4.45pm); Terengganu vs Negri Sembilan (Gong Badak Complex, 4.45pm); Kedah vs Felda United FC (Darulaman Stadium, 4.45pm).
Group B: Malacca vs Penang (Hang Tuah Stadium, Malacca, 4.45pm); Perak vs PBDKT T-Team (Perak Stadium, Ipoh, 4.45pm); Police vs Kuala Lumpur (Police Training Centre, Jalan Semarak, 4.45pm); Sabah vs Johor DT II (Football Sports Complex Stadium, Likas, 4.15pm); Gambang Sports School Pahang (SSMP) vs Pahang (National Football Academy field, 4.45pm).