KUALA TERENGGANU: Kedah returned to the top of Premier I the hard way, labouring to a 3-1 win over basement side Terengganu at the Sultan Ismail Nasaruddin Shah Stadium here last night.
The Canaries, last year’s Premier II champions, had expected to steamroll past the hapless Turtles but were made to slog for the precious three points by a young Terengganu side who had nothing to lose.
Ooi Hoe Guan put Kedah ahead in the 35th minute but Tengku Adam Rosli equalised the very next minute.
Two quick strikes by Akmal Rizal Rakhli (51st) and James Monie (53rd) gave Kedah the win.
With the win, Kedah have 41 points and are now in the driver’s seat in the Premier I title race on goal difference with two matches remaining for all the 13 teams. If Kedah win their remaining matches, they will be crowned the Premier I champions for the first time.
Perak, who are in Surabaya for the Asean Club Championship, dropped to second on 41 points while Perlis remained in third on 39 points after managing only a 2-2 draw against Malacca Telekom
For Terengganu, their season is as good as over. With only 12 points under their belt, they have a mountain to climb in their bid to make the cut for the Malaysia Cup competition.
In last night’s match, Kedah were not really affected by the absence of suspended Australian defender Andrew Clarke. They were the early aggressors but Terengganu held up well to deny the visitors from scoring.
National striker Akmal Rizal went agonisingly close to opening accounts in the 23rd minute. Four minutes later, he had another chance but Terengganu goalkeeper Suhardy Elby did well to stop his goal-bound shot.
Monie then had a chance to break the deadlock but he sent his flying header over the bar from close range.
It was only in the 35th minute that Kedah managed to make a breakthrough. Off a corner on the right by defender Irwan Fadly Idrus, Liew Kit Kong thumped a shot against the left upright. The hastily cleared ball reached Hoe Guan, who unleashed a stiff grounder to beat Suhardy.
But it proved to be a short-lived joy for Kedah. Hardly a minute later, Terengganu were back on level terms. Straight from the restart, Ghanaian Seidu Issifu released Tengku Adam and the midfielder coolly lobbed the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Mazlan Wahid.
Stung by the equaliser, Kedah came out with all their cylinders firing in the second half. It took them only six minutes into the half to grab the lead again.
Akmal Rizal made amends for his earlier misses, controlling the ball in the penalty area before turning to slide the ball under the diving Suhardy.
Before Terengganu could recover, Kedah went 3-1 up. Monie managed to stay upright after an aerial challenge with Suhardy. With Suhardy on the ground, Monie practically walked his way into goal.
Terengganu: Suhardy Elby, Abdul Ghani Malik, Nik Zul Aziz Nawawi, Zulharisam Awang, Tengku Adam Rosli, Azmi Che Ngah, Tengku Alias Ibrahim, Mohd Norhisham Hassan, Syed Redzuan Abdullah, Alfian Aziz (Ikhogo Figho), Seidu Issifu.
Kedah: Mazlan Wahid, Victor Andrag, Shariman Che Omar, Mohd Fauzi Nan, Irwan Fadzly Idrus, Ooi Hoe Guan, Amirul Nizam Mahadzir (Rizal Harun), Liew Kit Kong, Zainuddin Ariffin (G.Shanmugam), James Monie, Akmal Rizal Rakhli.