JDT move five points clear at top of MSL with Pahang and Kedah held
Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) opened up a five-point lead in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) after they buried bottom-placed Penang 2-1 on Wednesday night, as both Pahang and Kedah dropped points at the halfway stage of the season.
It was JDT's sixth consecutive victory in all competitions, despite their exit on aggregate from Malaysia FA Cup last Sunday.
Pahang managed only a 1-1 draw at home to Felda United, while Kedah continued to falter with the same scoreline, away to Perak.
One of Zainal Abidin Hassan's biggest worries at a sparsely filled Batu Kawan Stadium was his porous defence against the visitors who had plundered 17 goals in their last five games.
It did not take JDT long to breach the home side. Gonzalo Cabrera was afforded all the time in the world to direct a looping header past Sani Anuar Kamsani in the sixth minute.
The delivery from Azamuddin Akil from the right was right on cue, but Penang's backline merely stood static watching the 28-year-old from Argentina notch his fourth goal of the season.
But Penang's five-man backline went to sleep again, and Azamuddin punished them with a the second goal in the 25th minute.
Safiq Rahim's free kick found an unmarked Aidil Zafuan, who drew a terrific reflex stop from Sani with a glancing header.
The rebound kindly fell to the defender, who still had loads of time to nod across goal for Azamuddin to turn home.
But Penang got a lifeline six minutes before half-time after a defensive lapse from Fazly Mazlan.
Rafiuddin Rodin's cross was deflected into the path of S. Kumaahran. Fazly lunged in just after the striker and brought him down in the box.
Rafiuddin stepped up to coolly send Izham Tarmizi the wrong way from the penalty spot to breathe some life into the home fans.
It was the captain's first goal in three years, and also the 200th league goal scored in 2017.
Penang sensed the chance of a comeback. Nigel Dabingyaba almost dragged them level with a stiff grounder that was dealt with by Izham just before half-time.
But the rearguard action in the second half at Batu Kawan Stadium never materialised as JDT clicked into cruise control.
A driving run and sharp cutback from Fazly should have been seized on by Cabrera on the hour mark, but the forward skied his shot to keep Penang hopes alive.
The side from the island state never fashioned another chance, giving JDT a significant grip on top spot.
Other results saw Melaka United and PKNS FC play out a 2-2 thriller, while T-Team continued their upset of bigger teams with a 1-0 home win against Selangor.
Sarawak and Kelantan played out to a goalless draw in the match.
JDT: Izham Tarmizi (GK), Fazly Mazlan, Aidil Zafuan, Marcos Antonio, Azrif Nasrulhaq, Afiq Fazail (Shaakir Saari 66'), Gabriel Guerra, Safiq Rahim (C), Gonzalo Cabrera, Amirulhadi Zainal (Mahalli Jasuli 71'), Azamuddin Akil
Penang: Sani Anuar Kamsani (GK), Mafry Balang, K. Reuben, Azrul Ahmad, Yong Kuong Yong, S. Kumaahran, Syukur Saidin, Faizal Ghazali (Faiz Subri 61'), Syameer Kutty Abba (Jeffri Firdaus Chew 73'), NIgel Dabingyaba
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.