The season is approaching its halfway mark but neither Malacca or Kuala Lumpur are yielding in the race for promotion...
Malacca United and Kuala Lumpur have set the pace at the halfway mark of the Malaysian Premier League (MPL) with 24 points each.
The former is at the top of the standing on goal difference, as both teams have notched seven wins, three draws and one defeat.
Third-placed Negri Sembilan are above Johor Darul Ta’zim II (JDT II) also on goal difference with 22 points each, followed by FA Cup runners-up PKNS FC on 20.
Only the top two teams at the end of the season will earn promotion to the Malaysian Super League (MSL) and fans can expect a tight finish when the second round resumes on May 20 with the remaining 11 matches.
PKNS’ Gabriel Guerra of Argentine leads the scoring chart with 11 goals, an average of one strike in every game in the first round, while DRB-Hicom’s Ivan Babic of Croatia and Malacca’s Ilija Spasojevic of Montenegro have netted 10 times each in the MPL.
Spasojevic became the first player in the Malaysian League to score four goals in a game this season, achieved in the 6-0 hammering of bottom place Armed Forces at Temerloh Stadium on May 17.
The other scorers in the MPL are JDT II’s Paulo Rangel (nine goals) and Kuala Lumpur’s Anselmo Arruda da Silva (eight goals).
Kuantan FA’s Abdul Malik Mat Ariff leads the chart among local players with seven goals.
Race for Malaysia Cup spots
Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan and Johor had all confirmed their spots in the Malaysia Cup in the 10th round of the MPL, leaving PKNS FC, DRB-Hicom and Kuantan FA to battle for the fifth and final berth on May 17.
PKNS eventually sealed the final spot by scoring late goals in the 2-1 win over DRB-Hicom in an afternoon match at Proton Stadium in Tanjung Malim.
Croatian striker Ivan Babic put DRB-Hicom ahead with a neat finish in the 22nd minute.
With the clock ticking away, PKNS, who made four changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the final of the FA Cup three days earlier, managed to grab an equaliser through former national youth player Ahmad Shakir Ali in the 84th minute.
Gabriel Guerra turned hero for PKNS by scoring from the penalty spot three minutes later for the crucial win.
PKNS coach E. Elavarasan said the afternoon kick off affected his players’ pace and tempo as most were tired after the FA Cup final.
“The weather was cooler in the second half and made it possible for us to press harder for goals. My boys showed character and worked very hard in the game.
“I am relieved that we have earned a Malaysia Cup spot. Everything is going well for the team and for now, we are meeting targets.
“Apart from doing well in the Malaysia Cup, we also hope to challenge the pacesetters for promotion to the MSL,” said Elavarasan.
In other matches, Negri Sembilan edged Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) 1-0 courtesy of Afiq Azmi’s first goal of the season in stoppage time while Malacca thrashed Armed Forces 6-0.
Montenegro’s Ilija Spasojevic scored in the 20th, 38th, 44th and 90th minutes for Malacca while Sweden’s Labinot Harbuzi (second minute) and G. Puaneswaran (17th minute) completed the rout.
Match Day 10: Perlis 2 Malacca 1, Kuala Lumpur 5 Armed Forces 1, PKNS FC 4 Kuantan FA 4, Johor Darul Ta’zim II 1 UiTM 0, Negri Sembilan 2 Sabah 2, Sime Darby 0 DRB-Hicom 1.
Match Day 11: Sabah 1 Perlis 0, UiTM 0 Negri Sembilan 1, Kuantan FA 1 Johor Darul Ta’zim II 4, DRB-Hicom 1 PKNS 2, Armed Forces 0 Malacca 6, Kuala Lumpur 2 Sime Darby 1.