GEORGE TOWN: Penang coach Manzoor Azwira’s regime started off with a battling 2-2 come-from-behind draw against Kedah at the Darulaman Stadium. Kedah’s Liridon Krasniqi twice put the Red Eagles ahead in the 24th and 61st minutes on Saturday night, only for the Panthers to hit back through Matias Cordoba (30th) and Darwira Sazan (86th).
Here are five talking points from the match:
MANZOOR AZWIRA’S CHANGES
THE 40-year-old former Penang and Kedah player relied mostly on the same cast for his first match in charge, but made major tactical changes. The ineffective Osas Ikpefua lost his centre forward place, and was shifted to the left flank. Faiz Subri regained his 2015 role as the lone front man, with Cordoba pushed up from the middle to act as a cover for Faiz. Centreback Mafry Balang made his debut as a defensive midfielder, while Darwira Sazan and Mazlizam Mohamad were picked for the backline. The players struggled in their new roles initially, but gained confidence as the match wore on.
ARGENTINE Cordoba inadvertently contributed to Jacksen Tiago’s removal by missing a penalty in last week’s loss to Sarawak. Against Kedah, the midfielder was given the armband instead of Rafiuddin Rodin. Cordoba did not disappoint as he was by far Penang’s best player. Besides scoring the first goal and providing the assist for the second, the Argentine was a natural leader – standing up for his team-mates every time he felt Penang were on the receiving end of either a bad call or tackle.
KEDAH can be forgiven for having an eye on this Saturday’s massive FA Cup semi-final, first leg tie against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in Alor Setar when they took on Penang. Coach Tan Cheng Hoe left Brazilian playmaker Sandro da Silva and South Korean hardman Bang Seung-hwan on the bench, together with Farhan Roslan. All three only came on when Penang were threatening to create an upset. Cheng Hoe was right when he described the 2-2 result as two points dropped for the Red Eagles.
LOW GEAR SWITCH
KEDAH started both halves on the front foot and had the new-look Penang defence, missing the injured Reinaldo Lobo, in all sorts of trouble. The home side deservingly went ahead through Krasniqi twice in the match. Instead of pressing for another goal to kill off the tie, the Kedah players allowed Penang to regroup and chase for an equaliser not once, but twice.
THE stoning of the departing Penang team bus and the mass jeering when the visiting team’s state anthem was played prior to kickoff left a sour taste in the mouth. The northern, or any other, derby can be a fiery sporting affair but it’s important to know when to draw the line where rivalry is concerned. The instances of football hooliganism is increasing in Malaysia. A mere fine or punishment by playing behind closed doors no longer seem enough to deter such incidents. It’s time to come down hard on the perpetrators before somebody gets seriously injured, or killed. Attending a football match in Malaysia must be made a safe affair for everyone.
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