Michael Essien guides Persib Bandung to win over leaders PSM
Michael Essien played the full 90 minutes as Persib Bandung opened up the Indonesian title race even further on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over league leaders PSM Makassar.
The home victory lifts the big-spending West Javans into ninth who are now just four points behind the visitors in one of the tightest leagues in Asia.
Persib took the lead six minutes before the break with a flowing move. Supardi Nasir's right-sided low pass across the area was almost sent goalwards by Essien, the former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder. Instead it fell to Shohei Matsunaga who fired the ball high into the net with an emphatic finish.
Ten minutes after the break, the hosts delighted a crowd of 20,000 by extending their lead in fine fashion.
Tony Sucipto released Atep Rizal on the left and the 32-year-old advanced into the area and fired an unstoppable shot.
The visitors tried their utmost to head home with something and ensured a nervous finish by pulling a goal back through Wiljan Pluim. The Dutch midfielder fired home spectacularly from outside the area with 18 minutes remaining.
It was a welcome win for the struggling Persib. Under-fire head coach Djadjang Nurdjaman is not in charge of the team during games, but still involved with training and selection.
"This is an important victory for the team and it is an important victory for coach Djadjang," said assistant Herrie Setiawan, who added that he is in regular contact with the head coach.
"We did what we had to do and took the game to PSM. The players worked hard for the result."
PSM coach Robert Alberts was disappointed to fall to a third defeat of the season, but paid tribute to the victors.
"Persib scored two good goals," said the Dutchman. "We tried to get back into the game but did not have enough time.
"We are still top of the league and must focus on maintaining that position starting with the next game."
The only good news for PSM was that fact they stay in pole position with closest rivals Madura United falling to a 3-0 defeat at Borneo.
Two goals in the first half from Brazilian Flavio and a late strike from Shane Smeltz did the damage against Madura who brought league top scorer Peter Odemwingie off the bench in the second half.
Persipura moved third with a 6-0 thrashing of Mitra Kukar helped by a hat trick from Prisca Womsiwor.
Bhayangkara slipped into fourth after a 1-0 defeat at home to Barito Putera. But with just seven points separating the top 14 teams, there is still plenty of time and opportunity remaining.
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.