Former Kelantan striker Mohammad Ghaddar made an impressive debut for Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) with an assist for a goal by Amirulhadi Zainal as the Malaysia Super League (MSL) leaders overcame a resilient PKNS FC 1-0 at Shah Alam Stadium on Wednesday night.
JDT remain six points clear at the top of the MSL after Pahang and Kedah both won their games to trail them in joint second.
A brace from Matheus Alves at Selayang Stadium gave Pahang 2-0 victory over 10-man Selangor in the wake of their FA Cup final defeat last Saturday.
Kedah, who beat them 3-2 to lift the trophy, continued their stellar form by thrashing T-Team 3-0. Danish striker Ken Ilso, who had scored in the final, netted all three goals. In doing so, he became the fifth player to score a MSL hat trick this season.
At Shah Alam, 18-goal forward Ghaddar led a three-man frontline in his debut, with Argentine Gonzalo Cabrera and Azrif Nasrulhaq flanking him on either side, but JDT captain Safiq Rahim was absent.
Gabriel Guerra took the playmaker role to try to breach a PKNS defence which had conceded four times in their last game against Kedah.
But the Red Ants almost shocked the league leaders in the seventh minute. Their captain Fauzan Dzulkifli came agonisingly close with a header that rattled off the underside of Farizal Marlias' bar.
JDT were soon enjoying more possession, with Guerra testing Zamir Selamat with a long-range hit that the goalkeeper easily gathered.
Azril Nasrulhaq followed up with another daisy-cutter in the 37th minute as Benjamin Mora's men failed to get close to the PKNS goal.
But they improved as the first half drew to a close and should have gone into the break ahead.
Aidil Zafuan nodded wide from close range in the 43rd minute, before Ghaddar's header found the base of the post in the final action of the half.
Record signing Ghaddar picked up from where he left off after the break, but his good work was wasted in front of goal.
First, he made a clever run to escape his marker to latch onto Gonzalo Cabrera's dinked pass and rounded Zamir in the 55th minute.
But he took a heavy touch, and the ball was cleared away.
Eight minutes later, Ghaddar found himself with the ball in a crowded penalty area, but his shot was brilliantly smothered by Zamir.
Guerra then drew a frustrated look from Mora after fluffling Ahmad Hazwan Bakri's cut back from close range.
But the Southern Tigers eventually took the lead in the 79th minute, and it was Ghaddar who was the provider.
His low cross from the left wing was nicely tucked away by a sliding Amirulhadi Zainal to give JDT a much-deserved lead.
PKNS could have levelled within a minute, but were denied a certain goal by the lightning reflexes of Farizal Marlias.
Matias Hadwa thought he had scored when he shot from a metre out, but the JDT custodian somehow clawed the ball away. Farizal was beaten in injury time, but the woodwork came to his rescue after K. Gurusamy's set piece had deceived everyone.
Other results saw Kelantan draw 2-2 against Penang, while Felda United brushed aside Melaka United 3-0. Perak and Sarawak played out a goalless draw in Ipoh.
JDT: Farizal Marlias (GK), Fazly Mazlan, Aidil Zafuan, Marcos Antonio (C), Azrif Nasrulhaq (Ahmad Hazwan Bakri 63'), Afiq Fazail, Gonzalo Cabrera, Gabriel Guerra, Amirulhadi Zainal, S. Kunanlan, Mohammad Ghaddar (Mahali Jasuli 83')
PKNS FC: Zamir Selamat (GK) Azmi Muslim, Patrick Wleh, Nazrin Syamsul Rahri, Fauzan Dzulkifli (C), Abd Ghani Abd Rahman,M. Sivakumar, Lucas Sebastian Espindola, Aliff Haikal, Nizam Abu Bakar, Matias Hadwa