JOHOR BARU: Seventeen-year-old Ahmad Fakri Saarani stole the thunder, scoring a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over defending champions Negri Sembilan in his Super League debut at the Perak Stadium in Ipoh on Saturday.
The victory kept Perak on top of the table on better goal difference than Kedah. Both teams are on 28 points but Kedah have played one match fewer.
Perak ran riot against the Deer with Fakri setting the tone with a third minute strike. He added two more in the 43rd and 58th minutes and then set up Keita Mandjou for the fourth goal in the 68th minute. Wong Sai Kong completed the rout in the 76th minute before Mohd Hafiz Syobri pulled a goal back for Negri five minutes from time.
With Fakri having turned on a superb performance for Perak, coach Steve Darby is now worried that he may lose another player to one of the national age-group squads.
But for now, Darby can still have the option to field Fakri as he prepares for the FA Cup second round match against Kedah tomorrow.
Peraks previous two trips up north this season ended in defeats 3-4 in the league on Jan 3 and 1-2 in a Malaysia Cup Group C match on March 17.
And to drum up support for the team for the match at the Darulaman Stadium tomorrow, the Perak FA president Datuk Zahid Hamidi has arranged for 10 buses to ferry the fans for free to Alor Star.
Despite his good form, Fikri may not be in the starting line-up with Yusri Che Lah, who sat out the Negri match due to a swollen knee, expected to make a return.
It was a super performance from the young lad (Fikri). He showed no jitters in his big match debut. Fikri won over the fans with a convincing performance, said Darby.
Frankly, I thought he had done enough in the first-half and I contemplated replacing him in the second half. But he scored again to complete his hat-trick and then set-up Keita for the fourth goal.
I can't asked for anything more from a rookie. He has the physique and football talent. But I am worried about that too because I may lose him to the national team.
The match against Negri was good exposure for him. But I am not going to rush him. I will continue to bring in young players for exposure when the need arises under the rotation system because of the tight schedule.
Perak have two players in the national senior squad defender K. Nanthakumar and striker R. Surendran. Three are with the pre-Olympic side goalkeeper Nasril Nourdin and defenders S. Subramaniam and Ahmad Azlan Zainal.