LAHORE: Almost four months on from becoming the first club from Pakistan to play in the final of an AFC competition, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) achieved another first on Wednesday.

They became the first side to win the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) three years in a row after an emphatic 3-1 victory over Pakistan Army here at the Battle-X Football Stadium, dashing the hopes of closest rivals Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC).

KESC were earlier in action at the Faisal Town Football Ground and after they could only manage a goalless draw against Wapda, they needed Army to win against KRL to set up a title shootout with Tariq Lutfi’s side in the final match of the season on Saturday.

Instead strikes from Kaleemullah, Saddam Hussain and Dawood Khan enabled KRL to move to an unassailable 68 points from 29 matches, five clear of second-placed Wapda and KESC in third.

“This is the biggest triumph of my life,” an ecstatic KRL head coach Lutfi, Pakistan’s most decorated coach, told Dawn after the match.

“This is an unprecedented achievement and with this title we have stamped our authority over Pakistan football.”

KRL manager Ayaz Butt added: “This was a very tough season for us but we’ve put in a lot of efforts to win the title. Now, we hope to go one step better in the AFC President’s Cup.”

Losing finalists to Balkan FC last season in Asia’s third-tier club competition, Ayaz added that the title triumph was important for his side considering they wanted another shot at international level.

“We wanted to win the PPFL because we came really close to winning the President’s Cup last season,” Ayaz said, referring to KRL’s 1-0 loss in the final.

“I believe, that with this continuity, we can build a squad that can bring an international title to Pakistan.”

KRL’s victory means they became the fifth team in the South Asian region to win three successive domestic league crowns, joining the likes of Nepal Police Club, VB Addu FC, Abahani Limited and Transport United.

Transport United are the only team in the region to have won four consecutive titles. They dominated the Bhutan A-Division for that period from 2004 to 2007.

Abahani won the Bangladesh Premier League thrice from 2007 to 2009 while Maldives’ VB Addu FC won the Dhevehi League three times from 2009 to 2011.

Nepal Police Club, meanwhile, were the region’s last winners of three successive titles when they were the top team in the Martyr Memorial A-Division from 2010 to 2012.

The title also meant KRL joined Wapda with four PPFL titles.

Wapda, meanwhile, will now have to wait for the final match of the season between KRL and KESC to see whether they finish second or third.

A draw or a win for KESC would see Wapda, who have played all their 30 matches, finish third.

Nevertheless, Wapda head coach Tanveer Ahmed was satisfied with the way they performed this season.

“We had a young squad and we were very consistent this season,” he told Dawn at the end of their game against KESC.

“This is a season after which we can build on and hopefully improve further next season.”

With KESC looking for a victory against Wapda to press their title challenge, they had the best chances in the first-half at the Faisal Town Football Stadium.

In the 35th minute, Rehman shot wide after Mohammad Rasool found him inside the box with a lob.

Five minutes later, playmaker Mohammad Riaz shot wide from an acute angle.

Wapda brought on veteran striker Arif Mehmood in the second-half and he had two good chances to break the deadlock.

He volleyed just wide from outside the box before sending a free-kick over the bar.

Pressing for victory, KESC threw on their Nigerian striker Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday just past the hour mark.

With only his second touch, Sunday — the first foreigner to play in the league for four years — set up Rasool but his shot was blocked by Wapda goalkeeper Muzammil.

Sunday could’ve won the match in the dying minutes after brilliantly controlled a cross on his chest but his fierce shot was parried wide by Muzammil.

KESC Sports Head Zabe Khan cut a glum figure at the end of the match.

“We tried everything this season,” Zabe, whose side were runners-up last season, told Dawn. “We brought in Sunday but unfortunately it wasn’t to be our season and now we've a fight on our hands to come second.

“But we should be proud of the fact that we got so close this season and didn’t give KRL a chance to relax.”

Two hours later, KRL had sealed the title and defeat for Army meant they ended fifth on 49 points, four adrift of fourth-placed Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

“It was a positive season on the whole for us,” Army’s assistant coach Jaffar Khan told Dawn. “We tried to go out on a high but KRL were the better side.”

Better, they were. A shot by Kaleemullah — KRL’s top scorer with 21 goals this season — went in via a slight deflection in the 11th minute.

Eighteen minutes later it was 2-0.

Kaleem threaded a pass through the heart of the Army defence to Saddam and he rounded the goalkeeper before slotting it in.

The contest — and the title race — was over on the hour mark when Dawood rounded off a superb team move.

Saddam won the box on the centre circle and pushed it wide on the left to Saadullah who ran almost 30 yards before squaring the ball to Dawood who placed it beneath the onrushing Army goalkeeper.

Playmaker Imran Hussain pulled one back for Army in the 83rd when he curled in a sublime free-kick past the wall and in off the crossbar but it was too little too late to make a difference in the title race as KRL erupted in celebration at the final whistle.


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