Umaid Wasim – DAWN
LAHORE: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) are in pole position for a third successive Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) title.
This after Mehmood Khan’s winner helped them to a gritty 1-0 victory over Karachi Port Trust (KPT) here on Sunday which took them three points clear at the top of the table.
Tariq Lutfi’s side have 65 points from 28 matches with Wapda and the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) second and third with 62 points each.
KRL’s victory virtually extinguished Wapda’s hopes of a fifth PPFL crown.
Having a goal difference of 28 to KRL’s 42, Wapda would need all three points against the KESC in their final fixture of the season on Tuesday and hope KRL lose their final two games to Pakistan Army (Wednesday) and the KESC (Saturday) by big margins to snatch the title from their grasp.
The KESC, having a goal difference of 27, need to win both their final games and hope Army play out a draw or win against KRL on Wednesday.
“Today’s win against KPT could well turn out to be the title-deciding match,” KRL head coach Lutfi told Dawn after the match at the Faisal Town Football Ground.
But it was a bruising encounter for KRL.
It was as if KPT, playing their final game of the season, were out to hurt them.
Tackles flew, challenges came in hard and some of those studs-up clashes resulted in several cuts and bruises on the KRL players.
Eight KPT players were cautioned by the referee.
“The KPT players weren’t playing the ball,” KRL manager Ayaz Butt fumed. “This was total anti-football. Most of the game was played off the ball. The tackles they put in were never for the ball, it was to injure the players who are on course for the title.”
KPT head coach Mohammad Asif, however, said that his side were out to win.
“It was our final match so we wanted to go out with the victory which is why the match was so feisty,” Asif, whose side ended with 38 points, told Dawn at the end of the game.
KPT didn’t rely on their short-passing game, instead hoofed long balls inside the box and went in with bone-crunching tackles.
In the first twenty games the closest KRL came to breaking the deadlock was when Zia-us-Salam and Mohammad Rizwan volleyed wide from outside the box.
At the other end, Junaid Qadir shot straight at Saqib Hanif from distance. Bilawal then headed wide with the KPT goalkeeper to beat.
KRL’s best chance, however, fell to defender Kamran Khan in the 40th when he failed to direct a cross from the right past the goalkeeper from inside the six yard box.
Minutes later KPT were fortunate not to concede a penalty when the linesman failed to spot a handball by their defender inside the area.
The decisive goal, however arrived four minutes into the second-half.
KPT failed to clear a cross from the right and it went to Zia on the left. His cross from the left was controlled by Mehmood with his right foot before he lifted the ball deftly over the advancing KPT goalkeeper.
“I’m pleased to score the important goal in such an important game,” Mehmood said after the game.
“I had to react quickly and I did.”
KPT’s Zafar Majeed had two good chances to equalise late on.
Zafar was first thwarted by full-back Ehsan who managed a last-ditch tackle just when he was about to shoot and then Saqib made a sharp diving save off a free-kick.
KRL, however, held on and Saqib’s celebration at the end of the final whistle showed how important their victory was for them.