Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI, Nov 26: Eight months after beating Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) en route to winning the National Challenge Cup, National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) inflicted further misery on Tariq Lutfi’s side when they beat them 1-0 in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) here on Tuesday.
KRL, the two-time defending champions, went into the match looking for revenge against Nasir Ismail’s outfit who beat them in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup but were undone by Munir Ahmed’s second-half strike.
“These were important points for us considering that we are hovering just above the relegation zone,” an ecstatic Nasir told Dawn after the match.
The victory helped NBP draw level with Pakistan Army, who suffered a 3-0 reverse at the hands of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), on 22 points. However, NBP have played 17 games, three more than Army.
PIA’s victory, meanwhile, sent them clear on third place in the standings with 29 points from 19 matches, seven points behind leaders Muslim FC and three behind second-placed Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC).
Afghan FC moved up to fifth on 26 points from 19 matches, level with fourth-placed Wapda, after they edged past Karachi Port Trust 3-2 courtesy a brace by Jadeed Khan Pathan in the third match of the day. KPT’s defeat meant they slipped to sixth with 25 points from 19 games.
The match of the day, however, was the clash between NBP and KRL at the KMC Stadium.
KRL came into the game unbeaten in their opening eight games of the season and looking for another victory which would have strengthened their bid for a third straight title.
Against a packed NBP defence, Lutfi’s men failed to find many openings and the few half-chances they got in the opening exchanges were wasted by striker Kaleemullah and winger Mohammad Adil.
“We came out with a strategy to frustrate the champions and we were very successful in that,” Nasir said.
The best chance of the match fell to Adil in the closing stages of the first half but with the goal at his mercy, he failed to direct his diving header on target.
“The pressure is getting to the players,” Lutfi told Dawn after the match. “The expectation of winning a third successive PPFL title seems to be getting to them and they are missing easy chances.”
NBP had soaked up the pressure from the champions in the first-half and in the 69th minute, with their first attack of the game, struck the winner.
As KRL pushed men forward, a long punt saw Kamran Khan out of position and the Munir, who celebrated his 14th birthday just two weeks earlier, took it away from the KRL defender and raced towards goal.
KRL goalkeeper Saqib Hanif came out of his line but the youngster showed great composure to dribble past him to score with a deft flick and send NBP players into raptures.
“He [Munir] repaid me for my trust in him,” Nasir said. “He’s come from our youth system and is very intelligent on the pitch. He’s shown what a great prospect he can be for the future.”
With the lead, NBP players sat back, thwarting a series of KRL attacks as they looked for the elusive leveller.
The defeat meant KRL stayed on 18 points from nine games of the season so far but Lutfi wasn’t so pleased at NBP’s defensive tactics.
“We didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. “We had many chances, and were disallowed two penalties in the first-half. They [NBP] incurred many stoppages by needlessly going down. They didn’t come to play football.”
Army, who had suffered the brunt of NBP’s defensive tactics in a goalless draw in their previous match, were ripped apart by PIA at the Korangi Baloch Stadium.
Ali Adim Shah opened the scoring in the sixth minute before Shakir Lashari added another just past the half-hour mark and Zeeshan Ali sealed victory in the 80th.
At the KPT Stadium, Jadeed’s double upstaged Mohammad Bin Younis’ brace.
After Abdul Samad Khan gave Afghan FC the lead in the 10th minute, Jadeed put them in cruise control with a strike nine minutes later.
Mohammad Bin Younis struck either side of halftime — in the 37th and 66th — but Jadeed secured all three points for Afghan FC with his second goal in the 76th.