Another exciting weekend in Southeast Asian football as FourFourTwo presents its latest Five Finds, with title races heating up in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand...
Malaysia Cup exit a good thing for JDT
It was wise to do so. The Chinese say that the man who chases two rabbits, risks missing both. Chasing three can be tricky indeed.
It is a testament to the strength in depth at JDT that despite missing stars such as Safiq Rahim, Harris Harun and their acclaimed Argentine attackers, the Southern Tigers came fairly close to finishing in the top two and reaching the quarter-finals.
For JDT, the failure to do so will help them focus on the AFC Cup. There is a winnable quarter-final coming soon against South China from Hong Kong and the Malaysians have a good chance of defending the title won last year.
And then there is the league. Four games to go and JDT are within sight of a third successive title. These are prizes more important than the Malaysia Cup and with the team dominating the country's football scene, it is no bad thing for silverware to be spread as far and wide as possible.
Fortune is with Albirex Niigata in Singapore
Then with the jitters hitting, the White Swans had two separate pieces of good luck. The first was that the following two games were against the bottom two clubs in the league. It was a perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways as a third straight defeat could have been a real issue.
Fortunately, the two games brought six points and the title charge is back on track, particularly after another slice of good luck.
Tampines Rovers’ home loss at the hands of Hougang United was a surprise and gave Niigata a four-point lead at the top, robbing the Rovers of the momentum they were gathering in the pursuit. The pendulum has swung back the way of Albirex Niigata.
Finally, there's daylight at the top of the Thai league
The title race in Thailand between Muangthong United and Bangkok United is so intense that even drawing a game instead of winning can be a big deal.
The two teams have played 56 games between them this season and failed to win only 12. Such consistency is truly impressive.
With six games left, Bangkok would usually like their chances to closing the gap, but it can't be assumed Muangthong will drop points.
On Saturday, Muangthong played first and dismissed Pattaya United with a 4-1 win. The Kirins moved four points clear of Bangkok, who were in action later at Nakhon Ratchasima.
Nakhon took the lead on the hour thanks to Chakrit Rawanprakone and Bangkok were on their way to a rare defeat only for Bahrain striker Jaycee John to salvage a point with three minutes remaining.
It was cause for celebration, but it still left Muangthong three points clear and with a fair superior goal difference.
With six games left, Bangkok would usually like their chances to closing the gap, but so consistent have these two teams been that it can't be assumed Muangthong will drop points.
While it was, in the end, a decent result for Bangkok, they can't afford a repeat in the run home.
AFF injury curse for Singapore's Fazrul Nawaz
Tampines Rovers hosted Hougang last week with the chance to go top of the S.League.
They ended the match with a surprise 2-1 defeat and also lost striker Fazrul Nawaz. The 31-year-old will be out of action for six months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Not only is he now missing for the Mighty Stags, he will also be sidelined for Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup campaign.
"It happened to me back in 2008 and now it has happened again,” Fazrul told Today newspaper after the game.
"I would have loved to play in the Suzuki Cup but I guess some things are not meant to be. But I am not going to dwell on this too much because this is a setback I can bounce back from.
“Of course, this is disappointing and hard to take."
The same goes for fans of club and country.
The possible Malaysian title-decider is upon us
The stop-start nature of the Malaysia Super League seasons means the climax of it all has crept up on fans somewhat, but with four games left, Johor Darul Ta'zim are four points clear of Felda United.
Few teams would be confident of making up that kind of gap on the Southern Tigers, who are going for a third straight title, but there is hope.
On Wednesday Felda welcome the leaders to their new stadium. It is the biggest game in Southeast Asia this week and will go a long way to deciding the fate of the title race.
Quite simply, Felda have to hand JDT their first defeat of the season. Nothing else will do.
If the visitors take the points then they could – and probably will – clinch the title in their next home game. A draw would be OK too.
Felda have been in the top-two all season. This is their biggest test. If they can win then the title race is wide open. United have to believe they can do it.
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo unless stated