Screams of delight, of Yesssss!!!! Filled the air across the homes of those that bleed Red & White when Kuala Lumpur City registered our first points on the road this season, a win at Sarawak Utd on Tuesday, after super sub-Partiban got us the three points with an only minute of regulation time left on the clock, to end the final part of Mission Aidilfitri in success, our fourth victory in the last six matches.
Just when everyone thought this encounter would end in a stalemate at 1-1, Partiban, who came in for Koumbemba with a quarter of an hour to go, delivered his second consecutive goal in the league following last week’s opener against Penang. Earlier, skipper Paulo Josue’s equaliser 9 minutes from halftime, cancelled out S. Chanturu’s wonder goal 15 minutes into the game. The result keeps the City Boys in the fifth position with 13 points, three points off leaders Johor DT, though almost all the teams above and below us, except Kedah DA and today’s host, have at least 1 to 5 matches in hand.
The City Boys viewed this match as the perfect moment to put on another pair of back to back triumphs following two straight defeats against Negeri Sembilan and S Pahang. Our result in Cheras with Penang paved the way for such, and at the Sarawak State Stadium, the home side was having a torrid time playing in front of their fans, having gained only a point in four matches, despite possessing an away form that provided wins over S Pahang and Petaling Jaya C. Furthermore, their gruelling schedule was to our advantage, this was their fourth game in 11 days, which also involved travels to the Peninsular for the away days in Kuantan and Iskandar Puteri most recently, where they were booted out of the FA Cup in a 0-3 loss to Johor DT three days back.
For the eleventh time in as many matches this season, head coach Bojan fielded a different starting line-up. Akram who has always been fielded in every league match in 2022, was conspicuously missing from the trip, pulling up his hamstring a day before departure to Kuching, and this forced the Croatian to rearrange his defensive and engine room options. Twins Ryan and Declan returned to the fore, in the middle of the park and at left-back respectively, but there was no place for Partiban from the beginning, despite breaking the deadlock vs the Panthers. Irfan was back to central defensive duties partnering with Gallifuoco in front of Mendoza in goal, while Kamal Azizi remained at right-back. Akram’s role was given to Kenny, Zhafri was pushed wide to the right and Koubemba on the opposite flank. Upfront once again was Romel and skipper Paulo Josue.
We began the more dominant of the two in the early minutes, the game largely pegged in Sarawak Utd.’s territory. The City Boys were quick and aggressive, pressing the home side deep within their half, suffocating them. In 10 minutes, we had our first look at the goal. Gallifouco’s long punt forward near the centre circle, aimed towards the left channel, was met by Koubemba, who pushed it past Norman Angkun, then bore down on goal, sending in a stinging cross that was nullified by goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee, with Romel and Paulo Josue arriving just too late.
The Congolese were once again presented with a chance three minutes later, picking up Romel’s deflected cross into the box from the right, though losing balance just as he pulled the trigger, the shot wide of the mark. The move began with Ryan’s short freekick in Sarawak Utd.’s half close to the circle, to Romel, then to Zhafri on the right. The No. 8 plays back to the Colombian hitman, who races into the box pulling three defenders with him, allowing space for his strike mate to be left unattended.
Sarawak was almost punished in the 14th minute for a horrendous mistake. Stuart Wark’s goal kick was cut short by our skipper midway through their half, and the Brazilian squared it to Ryan who relayed it to Zhafri on the overlap into the box. He took a touch, and hit it low, missing the inside of the left upright by inches.
Despite all that pressure, superiority and possibilities created, it was the side in black that went a goal up at the quarter of an hour. Former KL-lite Francis Kone’s flick-on header off Sharbinee’s long ball fell to Boris Kok who swept it left to S. Chanturu. The veteran winger jigged a little, then let loose a thunderbolt that bent wickedly into the top right corner, completely bewildering Mendoza, who had yet to make a save since kick-off.
Credit to the city slickers, they did not use the setback as an excuse to lose focus two minutes after the stunner, we came close once again. Paulo Josue’s corner from the left was headed away by Kone, kindly falling to Irfan, with acres of space and all the time to pick his shot from at the edge of the box. His effort though whizzed past the crossbar.
With 25 minutes gone, we should have been awarded a penalty. Collecting a long ball forward down the right, Kamal Azizi played it back to Zhafri who brought Ryan into the picture. The 23-year-old spotting Kamal Azizi’s run into the danger zone behind the Sarawakian defender delivered a superb through ball, that had goal written all over it, until Sharbinee unceremoniously dived at his feet, bringing him down, but the referee refused to entertain any of our appeals. Unjust indeed.
Three minutes later, the Golden Hornbills were simply lucky to still be ahead, a misplaced backpass by Kone, from inside our half, was collected by our skipper. His movement was temporarily impeded, only for Ryan to get it back to him. With the home defence backing off, allowing him time to pick his spot, uncharacteristically though, Paulo Josue wasted yet another golden opportunity, shooting wide from outside the box with the goalkeeper already rooted to the ground in an acceptance of his fate.
We breathed a sigh of relief for not losing more ground at the half-hour mark. In a swift break led by Chanturu, Lee Chang-Hoon received it at the halfway line, and with hawk-like precision, his defence-splitting pass connected with Nur Shamie Iszuan’s run, but Mendoza rushed out, stayed big, stopping the shot with his foot. The loose ball came to Chanturu, and with an open goal beckoning, he failed to add his second of the game.
The Borneons again came close barely a minute after the earlier prospect. Chang Hoon was again the provider, delivering a corner to the front post that Amer Saidin came off best vs Mendoza, yet the header sailed over.
As soon as we hauled the ball back to the other end of the pitch, we almost got the equaliser. Easily, our best attempt of the match, Romel’s header forced Sharbinee into a reflex save to deny him, tipping the ball over the bar for a corner; Gallifuoco’s long ball within our half looked for Zhafri on the right. Winning the second ball, Paulo Josue did not spare any time, measuring a looping cross into the box that Romel was happy to go for without any challenge.
Paulo Josue’s freekick from 30 metres out in the 33rd minute of play was next on the menu for Sharbinee to contend, and he did so in a confident fashion, palming it away for a corner like he knew where exactly the ball would head for.
Zhafri then saw his whack from outside the box flash across the goal, off a cleared corner, to Sarawak Utd.’s relief yet again. It sounded like a familiar story was on the cards. A sad story for the Red and White? Perhaps not today.
Finally, the goal that we deserved arrived in the 36th minute, none other than the skipper to show us the way, and all it took were 4 passes, beginning with Mendoza in goal to Paulo Josue’s 4th strike in the league this year, a toe-poke inside the box that left Sharbinee stranded, and in between all that were exchanges involving Gallifuoco, Ryan and Zhafri with the assist.
A minute to the break, Romel showing plenty of persistence won the ball on the left, then danced with three of B. Satiananthan’s men as he made progress towards the penalty area, eventually playing it back to Declan, who flights in a searching ball into the box that was not dealt with cleanly, allowing Ryan his crack at goal from the top of the box. Sharbinee though was equal to the task, spreading himself comfortably to keep the score at one apiece.
In the first minute of time added on for the first half, Mendoza was called upon to deal with a potential scare after failing to clear our lines. In a rapid counter-attack, a ball from the left was lifted into the box for the muscular Kone at the near post, forcing the Filipino national custodian to quickly come off his line and rid the ball away to safety.
Both teams trooped off the pitch at the break tied 1-1, but the City Boys were indeed the aggrieved party with the number of clear-cut chances that went begging and a penalty call that went unheeded.
The second half began much like the preceding period, Kuala Lumpur City having more of the ball but without anything coming of it, and Sarawak Utd., threatening with their speed on the break. Within 10 minutes from the restart, a suicidal Irfan almost caused us to fall behind against the run of play. With the ball at his feet, he decided to run with it from the back and was dispossessed by the physically stronger Kone within our half just before the centre circle. Chanturu picking up the loose ball, without hesitating, released Nur Shamie, who escaped Declan’s watch, his blistering pace bringing him face to face with Mendoza, and with an open goal inviting him to strike, he misses by inches, the ball passing the outside of the right post to his disbelief.
It was a long 20 minutes or so to wait for our first real intention in the second chapter of the game. A clearance by the opponents from inside their penalty area off a throw-in down the right was intercepted by Romel. Taking control of the ball, he plays a one-two with Zhafri, moves wide and lifts in an excellent cross which the unmarked Paulo Josue mistimes, getting under the ball rather than over it.
Sarawak Utd., who were keen to deliver their first three points in Kuching, grew more confident as the contest wore on, and had another go on goal from a long way out by substitute midfielder Abang Azri Fikri in the 68th minute without troubling Mendoza. At the other end, Koubemba’s try from inside the box went wide after being fed by Ryan. The play began in our half when Gallifouco stole the ball from Kone in the middle of the pitch and played it short to Ryan, who in turn found the lanky winger on the left. Romel then gets involved, collecting Koumbemba’s pass, before relaying it back to Ryan. He draws the Sarawakians to confront him, creating a bit of space, then pushes it forward into the box for Koubemba to take it on the turn while closely being marshalled.
Both teams saw that the match was theirs for the taking, sussing each other for the gaps to exploit, but misplaced passes and lost possession often impeded play. The uneven and poor pitch made Route 1 the most favoured choice for the players out there, and from another long ball in the 72nd minute that caught Kamal Azizi napping, Sarawak Utd. came close with Zharmien Ashraf’s low cross from the left into the six-yard box, only for Irfan to safely get it away, with Kone lurking. The resultant counter-attack, saw Kamal Azizi finding our skipper inside the box, but the 33-year old’s first-time volley from the left, was easily gathered by Sharbinee.
Nur Shamie was certainly proving to be Sarawak Utd.’s greatest threat to regain the lead, and in the 78th minute, he was presented with his third chance of the evening, a rushed shot inside the box that went high over the bar with the goal at his mercy, after Zharmien’s cross from the right, came off Irfan’s header.
With five minutes left, the City Boys were awarded a freekick right outside the penalty area, after a foul on Partiban. Paulo Josue stepped up looking for his second in the match, but it was another off-target set-piece, going past the left upright, though Sharbinee had the angle covered.
Chang Hoon, the South Korean midfield general, had our bench looking nervous when his cross from the left in the 86th minute went searching for Kone at the far post, the following substitute Ahmad Khairil Anuar’s quickly threaded forward punt, but Irfan again was to the rescue.
The big goal we had long been waiting for arrived in the 89th minute, and it came from a combination between two players, Hadin and Partiban, that came off the bench to deliver the goods, giving a reason for the 10 or so Sampai Mati Kuala Lumpur faithful fans in the stadia, who journeyed across the South China Sea for their beloved team, to break into song. Romel, who earned the freekick near the centre circle that led to the winner, was pivotal in drawing the focus and attention of the Sarawakian defenders when Hadin had the ball, allowing Partiban to ghost in just inside the box without being seen by Chanturu, to receive Hadin’s pass, take a touch then smash it low past Sharbinee.
A few minutes later, the sweet sound of the referee’s whistle greeted us. First away points and victory that is. Second win on the trot. Replacements from the bench that changed the game. Fourth win in the past six matches. First win from a losing position since September 2020 (25/9/2020, 5-4 vs Selangor II in the Premier League). We head into the international break with plenty of positives to draw upon which would set us in good stead for the challenge ahead in June, the AFC Cup group stage but before that, a tough visit to Terengganu.
Sarawak Utd vs Kuala Lumpur City: 1 Mendoza (GK), 4 Kamal Azizi, 9 Gallifuoco, 12 Declan (25 Anwar 84’), 17 Irfan, 6 Ryan (27 Hadin 76’), 8 Zhafri, 21 Kenny, 28 Paulo Josue (C), 7 Romel, 11 Koubemba (16 Partiban 76’)
Subs Not Used: 20 Azim Al Amin (GK), 10 Safee, 22 Nik Umar, 30 Fakrul, 33 Muhammad, 37 Haqimi
Referees: Mohd Nafeez Abd Wahab; Assistants: Mohamad Mu’azi bin Zainal Abdin, Nor Hidayat bin Abu; Fourth Official: Jeevanathan M. Ponniamoorthy
OUR HERO OF THE MATCH: KENNY
He told The Voice of City Boys:
We played well as a team. We did lots of good moves, passes and chances. We kept the ball well and worked as a team to defend our goal. Very proud of each player for their commitment and work rate.
Honestly, we didn’t expect fans to be there but when we saw them we were so proud of them.
To watch the highlights of this match, please click https://youtu.be/RbPMc3RsVcU
To watch the complete match of Sarawak Utd. vs KL City on 17/5/2022 (Super League), please click https://youtu.be/OKB2MPvc4Sk