KOTA KINABALU: It was four minutes of disaster for Sabah in the first leg of the FA Cup quarterfinals at the Likas Stadium last night.
They took a two-goal first half lead, but allowed Perlis to score twice late in the game to earn a well-deserved draw.
In fact the Rhinos have themselves to blame for failing to gain at least a slender lead for the return leg as they found out that their second-half approach of trying to defend their lead backfired.
The result gives Perlis the upper hand to proceed through into the semi-finals with Sabah left with a mammoth task in Kangar on May 29.
Prince Ativie Guy scored the opener for the homesters, before Azrul Ejati Damsah struck the second for the Rhinos to take a healthy 2-0 lead at half time.
But as the match headed for a Sabah victory, Mohd Nazaruddin Mohd Zain reduced the deficit for the visitors in the 87th minute, before Phillimon Chipeta spoiled the Rhinos’ night with an injury-time equaliser.
It was an explosive first half as both sides played a fast paced game with the home side proving to be more deadly by scoring twice.
However, it was the visitors who had the first attempt in the game when Zacharia Simukonda found space inside the Sabah penalty box after being fed by ex-Rhino Joey Ryan Gundok in the 8th minute.
The striker unleashed a close range shot but Sabah’s young custodian Irwan Jamil was in his element to palm the ball away for a corner.
Sabah’s first attempt only came in the 20th minute. It started from a long clearance from the Sabah backline where the ball found Charles Obi, who then back-heeled the ball to Prince Ativie.
The unmarked Prince Ativie unleashed a powerful knee-high shot from about 25 metres that defeated Perlis custodian Tay Sin Kiat for Sabah’s opener.
And in a quick counter attack, Sabah extended the lead through Azrul, who struck the second three minutes before the break.
The move started from Chow Chee Wing, who crossed the ball for Charles Obi, but the ball found Perlis’ Md Reithuddin Awang Embran. However, Reithuddin’s weak header saw the ball hit Azrul’s chest, who eventually slammed a low drive from inside the box that defeated Sin Kiat for the second time on the night.
After the break, the Rhinos seemed to be satisfied with the lead and the experienced Perlis side took full advantage of that by launching attack after attack at Sabah’s goalmouth.
Unlike the first half where the match was equally contested, the second half was an-all Perlis affair with most of the game played in Sabah’s half.
But despite dominating the last 45 minutes, Perlis found the solid Sabah defence marshaled by stand-in skipper Ahmad Tharmini Saiban, Prince Eboagwu Etuwe and Henry Parsi a hard nut to crack until Mohd Nazaruddin Mohd Zain reduced the deficit in the 87th minute.
It started from the left where Mohd Hardi Ahmad sent a tricky cross. Irwan managed to punch the ball, but unfortunately it found Mohd Nazaruddin, who easily lobbed the ball into the back of the Sabah net with Irwan unable to do much about it as he was off position.
And in injury time, Chipeta did the damage on the Rhinos when he pounced home the equaliser during a goalmouth melee following a corner.