UNDERPERFORMING Kedah staged a grand comeback to defeat Armed Forces 3-2 in a President Cup second round soccer match at the Darulaman Stadium in Alor Setar.
Trailing by two goals to nil at half-time, Kedah struck thrice in a space of 10 minutes to turn the match around and secure maximum points.
Armed Forces scored first through Syazman Hazani (in the 11th minute) and S. Tharmaraj (18th minute).
Kedah hit back with goals from Mohd Farhan Roslan (70th minute), Mohd Shamim Aliff (72nd minute) and substitute Mohd Ivaan Hakimi (80th minute) to walk away 3-2 winners.
At the start of the match, Kedah were clearly out of depth, trying to keep pace with the marauding Forces players and their deficiency in skills, speed and teamwork was apparent.
Armed Forces adopted the total football concept of attack and defend in numbers, which upset the easy flowing one-touch game that Kedah used.
Forces opened scoring in the 11th minute during a fast counter-attack.
From deep defence, centre-back Daniel Ong Em Min booted a long ball upfield.
The unmarked Syazuan Hazani controlled it beautifully before side-stepping defender Noriqrie Talib and shooting into goal past an outrushing Kedah goalkeeper Mohd Muhaimin Zulkifli.
Stunned by this early setback and the thought of their previous three successive home defeats, Kedah turned aggressive and aggravated the situation when they gave away a free kick 30m out.
Kedah defender Muzaimir Hadi brought down Forces defender Syazuan Hazani, who was in full flight and from the resulting free kick, midfielder S. Tharmaraj curled a shot past a four-men defensive wall which hit the far upright before settling in goal in the 18th minute.
Tension mounted on the Kedah bench as they prepared themselves for a fourth consecutive home defeat and the few hundred fans became restless since Kedah had never recovered after going behind in their last three home matches.
Things changed for the better in the second half after a dressing down by chief coach Mohammad Ramlee.
Kedah changed their one-touch game and re-sorted to long ball tactics to allow the strikers to chase and bait the defence to commit fouls.
The tactic bore fruit as there was more action in the Armed Forces half of the field.
Armed Forces, who had expected to ride on their two-goal advantage, were sadly in for a surprise as they gave away a number of free kicks to prevent the resurgent Kedah possession.
The Armed Forces’ downfall began with the sacking of their centre-half Luveen Visnu in the 67th minute. Visnu, who had been cautioned in the first half, was booked for the second time by referee Abdul Rahim Abdullah for another offence.
With a player less, Armed Forces found the task of containing Kedah a burden and the first sign of a crack came in the 70th minute when striker Mohd Farhan Roslan dribbled past several defenders to score from close range to make it 1-2.
Hardly had the cheers died down when Kedah came charging for the equaliser.
Following three successive corners, Syamim Aliff put the finishing touches to toe the ball over the goal line during a goalmouth melee to make it two-all in the 72nd minute.
With the score even, both teams came close to scoring but it was the strike by substitute Mohd Ivaan Hakimi in the 80th minute which separated both teams.
With the Armed Forces defence back-pedalling, Ivaan Hakimi let fly a thunderous shot from outside the penalty area past Forces goalkeeper Mohamad Faiz for the winner.
In their first round encounter played at the UPM mini stadium in Serdang on Feb 13, the match had ended one-all.
For Kedah, this recent triumph came in the wake of their 1-0 upset victory over group leaders Negri Sembilan as compensation for their poor run of six consecutive matches which yielded a mere two points out of a possible 18.
Kedah’s win on March 31 at the Paroi Stadium, incidentally, was the second suffered by Negri Sembilan to Kedah in the competition after losing their first round match at the mini-stadium in Sintok on Feb 6.