By RONNIE OH
Photos by MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI
With Pos Malaysia and Negri Sembilan’s Betaria already made to troop home with identical 2-1 de-feat, the Malaysian Under-19 boys was not spared the rod when they came to Penang on Friday.
The varsity outfit, like in their previous two home outings, were left trailing early but once they got moving, went on to register a deser-ving 3-1 win and grabbed all three points in their ongoing Premier League campaign.
The victory which gave them 10 precious points from three wins and a draw after five outings, was a pleasing result for their more than 1,000 supporters and allowed them to keep the current League leaders within striking distance.
On a night when Police FC took over as the new leaders, simply because the unbeaten Pahang are only to play their fifth League match against Armed Forces on Friday, USM’s triumph firmly put themselves on par with the East Coast giants, only to be placed third in the 14-team League table due to a more inferior goal different.
Brave effort: USM FC player S. Vennod (second right) wrestling the ball from Harimau Muda 'B' player Muhamad Akram during the Premier League soccer match at USM Stadium in Penang
Even the top table seat Police have been made to look vulnerable as, despite taking a one-point lead over Pahang, but having played one match more automatically gave the ‘Elephants’ the upper hand.
Armed Forces FC, who have also been going great guns until they suffered a hiccup against Sime Darby FC in their last outing, also cannot be discounted for wresting back the top table seat.
Being just two points adrift of Police, an outright win over Pahang on Friday could also allow them to regain the leadership they have been enjoying since the start of the season.
Sorry, mate: USM FC player Darwira clearing away from Harimau Muda 'B' player Nik Shafiq Syazwan (in orange)
But for USM, Friday’s win over Harimau Muda proved to be most significant in their bid to stay among the early leaders in their ongoing Premier League challenge.
Although they are still struggling to put up a winning act away from home, going down to Police (0-2) and held to a 1-1 draw by basement side Johor MBJB, USM have always delivered when playing to the chorus of their home fans.
This was evident when they again braved an early setback and battled relentlessly to regain victory. Never mind that Harimau Muda ‘B’ got off with a roaring start, with Mohd Norhamizaref Hamid crashing home an unchallenged header just after seven minutes.
As if awakened from slumber, USM began punching holes at the Harimau Muda’s defence, with pro-mising young strikers Mohd Faizat Ghazali and S. Vennod.
That firmly signalled a USM revi-val and the moment Mohd Faizat snapped at a keeper’s error, USM was back levelled in the 36th minute. The Under-17 lad blasted home a loose ball after goalkeeper Muhd Ilham Amirullah failed to catch clean a Mohd Fakhrul Yaacob free kick.
The greatly inspired USM side continued to pressure the national outfit and the moment Vennod raced past to finish off M. Prakash through ball and delivered the second blow just two minutes later, it gave them a 2-1 lead at the breather.
It was all over for Harimau Muda ‘B’ when Vennod smashed home his second goal to complete a brace in the 57th minute. Released by Mohd Afzan Zainal Abidin, the speedy Vennod charged in to slot home their third goal to complete their 3-1 win.
USM FC coach S. Veloo understandably was all smiles at the final whistle.
“It was an important win as it kept us within striking distance of the leaders,” said Veloo, who attributed their win to the discipline and determination of his players.
He said: “But what impressed me most is the confidence displayed by two of my Under-17 players — Mohd Faizat and Mohd Shafiq (Safaruddin) at the different end of the field.
“While Mohd Faizat displayed his attacking flair to near perfection, Mohd Shafiq proved to be a pillar of strength in executing his centre back roles. That came like a big bonus.”
Veloo, however, is not about to rest on his laurels. With the League going into a two-week break, he is eager to maintain the rhythm with warm-up matches before they resume their campaign against Sime Darby FC at the Selayang MC Stadium on Feb 10.