The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Sime Darby

Malaysia Super League | Jalan Besar Stadium | Sat 22 Aug | 8.45pm

Billed as

A dead rubber or the perfect LionsXII tune up before the Malaysia Cup, depending on how you look at it.

The lowdown

LIONSXII FORM

  • Sarawak FA 2-1 LionsXII (MSL)
  • LionsXII 1-1 Selangor FA (MSL)
  • JDT 1-0 LionsXII (MSL)
  • LionsXII 4-2 Pahang FA (MSL)
  • Terengganu FA 4-2 LionsXII (MSL)

SIME DARBY FORM

  • Sime Darby 1-0 ATM FA (MSL)
  • PDRM FA 1-1 Sime Darby (MSL)
  • Sime Darby 1-1 Sarawak FA (MSL)
  • Sime Darby 1-3 Selangor FA (MSL)
  • JDT 4-0 Sime Darby (MSL) 

So it’s 21 games down, one more to go in this 2015 Malaysia Super League (MSL) season as the title race between Johor Darul Ta’zim and Pahang FA goes down to the wire.

Once again LionsXII will play no part in the final day drama, after a mixed season where they thrilled at their Jalan Besar den but floundered away from it. Any lingering hopes of finishing in the top four vanished after a disappointing 2-1 loss in Kuching against Sarawak FA, which inadvertently helped the hosts stave off relegation.

It seems inconceivable that only six of the LionsXII's 30 points so far have come in away games, but there you have it. You can’t help but wonder what could have been if they had collected more points on the road.

While keen observers of the side will point to a marked improvement in terms of performances and team cohesion, the fact remains that (as of now) they have collected the same amount of wins (eight) as last season and leaked in more goals at the back (32 to last season’s 27).

To be fair though, they have scored more (33 to last season’s 26) and suffered less defeats (seven to last season’s 10). Putting these figures aside, they will look to finish the season on a high as they host already-relegated Sime Darby.

After a stunning first season in the MSL where they finished fifth out of 12 teams, the Giant Killers have failed to kick on in this campaign with seven draws and 13 defeats in their first 20 matches. With form like that, it's no surprise they are heading back down into the MSL.

Statistics certainly do not lie – they were on the verge of becoming only the third side in MSL history (after PDRM FA in 2009 and Kuala Lumpur FA in 2012) to go through an entire season without a win until three days ago.

A Nemanja Vidakovic penalty was enough to separate them and ATM FA, who will also join them back in the Malaysia Premier League for next season. That should lift their confidence a little as they attempt to navigate through the upcoming play-offs for the Malaysia Cup after completing their league campaign against the LionsXII.

Team News

With nothing much to play for (except protecting that unbeaten home record), it will be interesting to see what kind of line-up LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad chooses.

Given his knack of sticking to a preferred starting 11 unless his hand is forced by injuries or suspensions, will the national legend give the fringe players a runout this time? The likes of Khairulhin Khalid, Wahyudi Wahid, Raihan Rahman, Firdaus Kasman and Sufian Anuar are waiting in the wings, should he choose to experiment.

Centre-back Madhu Mohana is also hoping to return after missing out on the midweek defeat to Sarawak due to injury.

Meanwhile in the Sime Darby camp, midfielder Abdul Halim Zainal will return after being suspended for Wednesday’s victory against ATM – giving coach Ismail Zakaria some food for thought ahead of this game.

While the unfancied outfit are the second-lowest scorers in the league with just 20 goals (one more than ATM), they will fancy their chances against a LionsXII side which has not kept a single clean sheet in its past seven matches.

The foreign attacking trio of Marko Purovic, Reinaldo Elias Da Costa and Vidakovic, who have been responsible for five goals apiece, are expected to start again.

Khairul Amri was closely marked the last time the LionsXII came up against Sime Darby. Photo: FAS

Player to Watch: Khairul Amri

Seeing his penalty go in off the post against Sarawak, Amri heaved a sigh of relief and looked to the skies. That was just his third league goal of the season and it should have whet his appetite for more.

With the Malaysia Cup coming up, it is important that the 30-year-old rediscover his swagger in front of goal. And what better opportunity than to do it against the league’s worst defence (with 45 goals conceded)?

LAST THREE MEETINGS

  • Sime Darby 1-2 LionsXII (MSL, May '15)
  • LionsXII 0-1 Sime Darby (MSL, Apr '14)
  • Sime Darby 0-2 LionsXII (MSL, Apr '14)

The Coaches

In the dugouts are two 53-year-olds in Fandi and Ismail. While not as recognisable in Malaysian football as the former, Ismail is something of a cult hero with the Giant Killers.

Since joining the club in 2010, the former technical director of Selangor has managed to oversee the club’s rise from the FAM League all the way up to the MSL. Despite relegation this term, his past achievements have earned him a stay of execution at the club – unlike eight other MSL coaches this year.

Facts and Figures

  • LionsXII have the slight upper hand in terms of head-to-head records between the teams. Both sides have faced each other only three times in history, with the Singaporeans winning twice while Sime Darby have one victory.
  • That solitary win for Sime Darby came in April last year when Syukur Saidi’s thumping volley separated the two sides (which also means LionsXII have never beaten them at home).
  • LionsXII are unbeaten in 13 games at home this season – winning seven and drawing three in the league, while winning three in the FA Cup.
  • On the other hand, Sime Darby’s away form has been poor with four draws and six defeats in 10 league games. 
  • LionsXII are on a three-match winless streak, with away losses against JDT and Sarawak sandwiching a 1-1 home draw against Selangor FA.
  • Meanwhile Sime Darby are on a three-match unbeaten run, with successive 1-1 draws against Sarawak and PDRM before the 1-0 win against ATM.
  • LionsXII have kept four clean sheets all season, while Sime Darby have only done it once.
  • LionsXII have 14 different goalscorers this season, while Sime Darby only have six.
  • LionsXII have yet to keep a clean sheet in their last seven matches.

FourFourTwo predictions

FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: There is pride on the line for both teams, so it'll still be an interesting contest. I don't expect the LionsXII to lose two on the trot, especially at home. 2-0 to the hosts.

Darren Goon: 1-1. Sime Darby's tails are up and they know that a point away in Singapore will help them avoid the wooden spoon. The LionsXII lost to a similarly poor team on Wednesday and a draw will suffice to keep their home record intact.

Kenneth Tan: Final game of the season and the boys will not want to end it with a whimper. A clean 3-0 victory and onwards to the Malaysia Cup.

The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan:  LionsXII to win 6-0. A feast to close out the season.

Yahoo Sports’ Teng Kiat: 3-0. LionsXII to put on a show and finish the season with a flourish.