JDT 2 Kedah 1: Sweet return for Antonio clinches first cup for JDT

JDT had to come from behind to beat Kedah in the season opener as Marcos Antonio grabbed all the headlines on his return after a long lay-off.

Super League football returned at Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in 2018 and it was the return of one influential player that meant Johor Darul Ta'zim picked up their first silverware of the season.

At the end of July last year, Marcos Antonio had to end his 2017 season early after suffering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Fast forward six months later, the 34-year-old centre back not only started his first competitive game but he also netted the winner that clinched the Charity Cup for JDT.

The match also doubled up as a Super League fixture, and the reigning league champions got their campaign away on a positive start despite being given an early scare from Kedah.

Ulisses Morais fielded his full quorum of imports with the return of Antonio, Hariss Harun, Gonzalo Cabrera, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Luciano Figueroa all in the starting XI. La'Vere Corbin-Ong also got to make his debut in the defence.

At the other end, Ramon Marcote could only field three of his imports in Liridon Krasniqi, Sandro da Silva Mendonca and Pablo Pallares. Their only other foreign signing in Filipino Alvaro Silva was not in the squad. Interestingly enough, Baddrol Bakhtiar took over the captain's armband from previous captain, Khairul Helmi.

The away side were forced under early pressure from a JDT side buoyed by a voracious home support. Safiq Rahim quickly got into the groove of things, dictating play from the middle of the pitch and it was just six minutes on the clock when Diaz struck the first shot on target which Ifwat Akmal was on hand to stop.

Kedah knew they had to be patient and after absorbing tremendous pressure, the Red Eagles broke to find the opening goals, albeit somewhat fortuitously. Izham Tarmizi's poor clearance in the 15th minute lead to the ball going straight to Sandro inside JDT's half of the pitch.

The Brazilian had time to look up and picked out a superb dink over JDT's defence to find Pallares. The striker from Spain accepted the invitation with glee and powerfully slammed home a shot to put the visitors in front.

To their credit, the home side did not let that goal affect them and continued to control the most of the possession. Diaz had scuffed a rebound inside the penalty box in the 20th minute with Hariss the next to go close, blasting wide just seven minutes later.

JDT were not to be denied in the 29th minute as the stadium erupted in celebrations over the equalising goal. Safiq was given space on the left hand side and he pumped in a great cross that Figueroa powered past Ifwat. The Kedah keeper could have done better, allowing the shot to fly in over his head.

The 36-year-old Argentine could have given the home side the lead just before half time but saw his header in the 44th minute, bouncing back off the cross bar after a Kedah struggled to clear their lines from a JDT corner kick.

The half time break did not stop JDT's momentum as they came out of the dressing room still dominant in the match. Marcote chose to take off the ineffective Hidhir Idris for Amirul Hisyam as Baddrol Bakhtiar moved to the right hand side.

Twice Ifwat was tested in the 50th and 52nd minute but came out on top on both occasions, denying first Cabrera then Diaz in quick succession but would succumbed at the third time of asking.

In the 58th minute, JDT were awarded a free kick which Safiq hit straight at the wall but he recovered the rebound before relaying the ball to Corbin-Ong out on the left. JDT's shiny new left back's subsequent cross found Antonio and the centre back planted a header beyond Ifwat for JDT to take a 2-1 lead.

Antonio would be taken off with 15 minutes left on the clock on precaution after he appeared to suffering the effects on his first game back. His left knee, the one that was injured previously was immediately treated and his knee was heavily strapped as he watched the rest of the match from the bench.

Gary Steven Robbat came into the fray which meant that Hariss was dropped into defence. JDT continued to hold all the cards in the match and while there were some nervy moments at the back for JDT, there were no more goals in the match and the home side comfortably hung on until the final whistle.

Kedah won the same fixture on penalties last season and a year on, JDT have exacted their revenge on their closest rivals.