by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Since what they believe was being knocked off their perch, the only thing on Khan Research Laboratories’ mind is getting back on it.
Since then they have been on a mission to win each tournament they have taken part in. They have won three out of four but as they embarked on their quest for a fourth title on Wednesday, they seemed to be smarting from defeat last time out.
Nevertheless the four-time Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions opened their Group ‘B’ campaign at the inaugural Naya Nazimabad Departmental Football Tournament with a 1-0 victory over Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) on Wednesday.
Izharullah Khan made the difference just past the hour mark here at the KMC Stadium, the KRL winger latching onto the ball after Zia-us-Salam’s cross was deflected into his path and unleashing an unstoppable shot that went in despite the SNGPL goalkeeper getting a hand to it.
But it was a performance unlike KRL. After a listless first half, they only showed flashes of brilliance at the start of the second and survived a few close calls near the end as SNGPL came searching for a leveller.
“It wasn’t a top performance as we’re still looking to find the right balance,” KRL goalkeeper Saqib Hanif told Dawn.
KRL manager Ayaz Butt echoed Saqib’s view.
“We couldn’t play through the middle as we had planned to,” Ayaz told Dawn. “We were forced into playing from the wings and had to make a few adjustments in both our style and our personnel.”
On the pitch, it probably wasn’t the statement KRL wanted to send out.
Ever since they relinquished their three-year stranglehold on the PPFL title to K-Electric in 2015, every match for them is a chance to prove all over again that they are Pakistan’s top side.
A dispute in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has seen the league suspended since the 2014-15 season and KRL had had to make do with other tournaments.
They did win the PFF Cup in February 2016 — an event organised by the court-appointed PFF administrator in wake of the dispute in the football governing body — and followed it up by winning the All Pakistan Salahuddin Dogar Memorial Football Tournament in Multan in October that year.
In January Ayaz’s side lifted the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) President’s Cup but coming into the Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Tournament they failed in the defence of their title at the Salahuddin Dogar Memorial Tournament, losing to Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) in the semi-finals.
That defeat hurt even more because SSGC were in the second-division when the PFF dispute broke and their head coach is Tariq Lutfi, the man who was at the helm of KRL’s era of domestic dominance, while they also enlisted the services of former KRL midfielders Saddam Hussain and Mehmood Khan.
“We made a few mistakes in that match,” Ayaz recalled of the semi-final under the floodlights in Multan. “Now we want to show that we’ve learnt from it and avoid repeating the same mistakes.”
KRL have lost a number of key players in the last few years but under Ayaz’s astute leadership and recruiting they have stayed competitive and kept on winning.
The style wasn’t there on Wednesday. But for now, a win would do.
“We take the positives from this match and look forward,” KRL striker Murtuza Hussain told Dawn. “This is just first step in our quest for another title.”