Ken Ilso brace vs. Pahang drives Kedah to top of MSL table
Danish import Ken Ilso fired a brace to inspire Kedah to the summit of the Malaysia Super League after another exquisite display to thrash Pahang 4-1 on Saturday night, as defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim dropped points at home to Selangor.
Ilso struck twice after half-time after Kedah had broken the deadlock just before the break through captain Baddrol Bakhtiar.
After their 3-0 defeat in an AFC Champions League playoff in Japan on Tuesday, JDT returned to Larkin Stadium where Argentina's Brian Ferreira missed a first-half penalty as they could manage only a goalless draw against Selangor.
Other results saw Mohammad Ghaddar net a late winner to give Kelantan a 2-1 win over Felda United, while Ashley Westwood's Penang slumped to their fourth consecutive loss after a 1-0 home defeat to Sarawak.
At Darul Aman Stadium, Kedah knew victory over Pahang would take them top spot, given Perak's 3-0 loss to PKNS FC in an earlier game.
But the opening 30 minutes was mostly consigned to the middle of the park, with crunching tackles taking precedent over goal-scoring chances.
Akram Mahinan took out Pahang's Bright Dike into mid-air after a rough interception before Rizal Ghazali's aggressive play put him into the referee's books.
The first half came to life in the 40th minute as Pahang's Gambia striker Mohamadou Sumareh forced a low, one-handed save from Ifwat Akmal.
Kedah responded with a Sandro free kick that was palmed away by Wan Azraie three minutes later before they took the lead on the stroke of half-time.
It was a goal of beauty which highlighted the fluid, one-touch football coach Tan Cheng Hoe has refined this season.
A move that started in their own half saw Kedah work the ball to Syazwan Zainon, who found Ken Ilso in the penalty box.
The Dane squared for Liridon Krasniqi, who slid in an unmarked Baddrol.
The midfielder took one touch, before placing a deft, low strike into the bottom corner for his third goal of the season.
Tan's men emerged with the same vigour after the interval, and Ilso came close on the hour mark.
Sandro had a shot crucially blocked two minutes later, and then Kedah doubled their advantage with another well-crafted move, midway through the second half.
The Brazilian midfielder flicked the ball into the path of Krasniqi, who played in Ilso to bury past Wan Azraie, and virtually kill off the game.
Substitute Farhan Roslan then confirmed victory in the 74th minute. Zachary Anderson directed Sandro's corner into the path of the diminutive winger, who controlled the ball, and emphatically lashed home.
Pahang's Brazilian playmaker Matheus Alves reduced the deficit with an identical finish to Baddrol's in the 89th minute. But Ilso's smart effort in injury time confirmed Kedah's supremacy.
Kedah: Ifwat Akmal (GK), Baddrol Bakhtiar (C) (Fakri Saarani 79'), Rizal Ghazali, Khairul Helmi, Zachary Anderson, Fitri Omar, Ken Ilso, Akram Mahinan, Sandro, Syazwan Zainon (Farhan Roslan 60'), Liridon Krasniqi
Pahang: Wan Azraie (GK), Matthew Davies (C), Francisco Insa, Bright Dike, Syamin Yahya, Wan Zaharulnizam (Ashaari Shamsuddin 73'), Faisal Rosli, Heo Jae-won, Afif Amiruddin, Mohamadou Sumareh, Matheus Leandro
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.