PENANG: Kedahs laboured 3-2 victory over bottom side Penang in Batu Kawan on Tuesday night further highlighted the importance of striker Marlon James to the teams Super League title defence.
The 31-year-old St Vincent and Grenadines striker was suspended for the match and the Canaries faced much trouble in front of goal to kill off the gutsy Panthers.
Ace goalpoacher James played an instrumental role in scoring 41 goals to help the Canaries win an unprecedented treble last year and he has continued his rich scoring vein in the current campaign.
Kedah coach Mohd Azraai Khor grudgingly admitted that James presence would have made a difference against Penang.
I hate to admit it but we were not the same without Marlon. Although we collected the three points, we were less lethal up front and should not have lived dangerously until the final whistle, he said. The players lost concentration and failed to put the match beyond Penangs reach despite leading twice. All credit to our opponents for putting up a brave fight.
Chilean midfielder Nelson Martin gave Kedah the lead in the 17th minute but it was wiped out when his skipper, A. Victor, deflected the ball into his own net in the 50th minute
Saramsak Kram restored the lead for Kedah in the 61st minute but Penang were level again through Mohd Farizal Rozali seven minutes later. Badrul Bakhtiar netted Kedahs winning goal in the 76th minute but Penang were always threatening to snatch an equaliser.
The valuable away win, which was Kedahs six straight league victory, ensured the champions are perched at the top at the halfway mark of the season.
Kedah, the only team to have completed their first-round fixtures, hold a five-point lead over nearest challengers Negri Sembilan and Selangor, who will both be in action on Saturday.
Azraai welcomes the two-week break for his side before the second round resumes on Feb 12.
It was clear to everybody that the Kedah players looked tired, he said. Compared to the other teams, we have extra four days of rest and I intend to make full use of the break to ensure that the players are fresh for the second round challenge. We are thinking of having a short training camp in Langkawi next week.
Meanwhile, the Penang players were left disappointed after failing to gain at least a point despite producing their best performance of the season. The Panthers are rooted to the bottom of the standings on six points and they are the only top-flight team yet to win at home.
Coach Mohamad Bakar said: The boys played their hearts out but it was still not enough to gain anything from the match.
The fighting spirit was there but we need to shake up the squad if we are to come out of our current predicament.