The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Pahang FA
The LionsXII's unbeaten record meets it's toughest opponent yet – win-happy MSL leaders Pahang.
- Terengganu FA 4-2 LionsXII (MSL)
- LionsXII 2-1 Felda United (MSL)
- LionsXII 2-1 Perak FA (MSL)
- LionsXII 3-0 Kelantan FA (MSL)
- PDRM FA 2-1 LionsXII (MSL)
PAHANG FA FORM
- Pahang FA 2-0 ATM FA (MSL)
- Sime Darby 2-4 Pahang FA (MSL)
- Pahang FA 3-1 Sarawak FA (MSL)
- Selangor FA 1-3 Pahang FA (MSL)
- Pahang FA 1-1 Johor Darul Ta’zim (MSL)
As the saying goes ‘all good things come to an end’. The LionsXII saw their three-match winning streak in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) snapped by a red-hot Terengganu FA side on Wednesday night.
While they managed to net two goals via Madhu Mohana and Hafiz Abu Sujad, the 2013 MSL champions found no answer to waves after waves of attacks from the home side and eventually ended up on the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline. This makes it just the second time (after the 4-0 mauling by Selangor FA) that they have conceded four goals this season.
The loss means they drop three spots to seventh, level with four other teams on 26 points, in the 12-team table. The silver lining is that third-placed Perak FA also suffered a shock 3-2 defeat at the hands of PDRM FA, which means the LionsXII are really still just a point adrift of the top three.
With just five games to go before the season concludes, every point is crucial for the LionsXII if they want to at least finish inside the top half. That is obviously easier said than done as league leaders Pahang FA come to town this weekend.
After a tough start to the season which saw them picking up just one win in five and languishing in the bottom three, the Elephants hosted the LionsXII on Matchweek 6 and ran out 3-2 winners at the Darul Makmur Stadium.
That proved to be the turning point of their season as it sparked a 12-match unbeaten run, where they collected a massive 34 points from a possible 36 on offer. The only blip was a 1-1 home draw against fellow title challenges Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in late June.
Thus the 2014 Malaysia FA Cup and Malaysia Cup champions should have no fear coming to the Jalan Besar Stadium, where only two out of eight teams (Terengganu FA and JDT) have escaped unscathed. With JDT breathing down their neck, a victory is crucial if Zainal Abidin Hassan’s team want to continue being the pacesetters.
All these point to a rather intriguing 90 minutes in store at the Lions’ den this Saturday.
As seen in the disappointing result at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium three days ago, it is evident that the LionsXII are bereft of ideas in attack without the injured Faris Ramli and Khairul Amri. The influential duo have scored 15 goals between them in all competitions this season.
Should they fail to recover in time for this game, Gabriel Quak and Khairul Nizam are likely to step in on the right wing and up front respectively.
Otherwise there should be few surprises in Fandi Ahmad’s starting eleven. Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin and Shahdan Sulaiman are likely to combine again in midfield, while the back four of Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah and Hafiz Sujad should remain despite a poor last outing.
Whoever starts in defence will need to be wary of the prolific Pahang strike duo of Matias Conti and Dickson Nwakaeme, whose goals have accounted for half of their 32 goals in the league so far.
They are ably supported by a strong midfield four where Azidan Sairudin and Hafiz Kamal break down the opposition’s attacks, while Azamuddin Akil and R Gopinathan provide the width.
At the other end, the Tok Gajah are equally impressive with the second-best defensive record in the league. First-choice custodian Khairul Azhan Khalid conceded just 16 goals in 17 games, with only JDT’s Farizal Marlias outdoing the former by letting in five less goals.
Much of that credit must go down to the ‘Twin Towers’ of Zesh Rehman and Damion Stewart, who have not just marshalled the backline excellently but also contributed eight goals at the other end to help the team’s cause.
Key Battle: Madhu Mohana vs Dickson Nwakaeme
It is no secret that if the LionsXII want to stand any chance of toppling the Elephants, they will have to shut out Dickson Nwakaeme, who scored both goals in their 2-0 midweek win against ATM FA.
Nicknamed ‘Iron Man’ for his incredible upper body strength and physique, the 29-year-old also possesses nifty footwork for a man of his size. Slowing finding his form after failing to score in the first six league games, the Nigerian hotshot will be relishing his chance to add to his six-goal tally.
The responsibility of stopping the striker will fall on the shoulders of Madhu, who has been the rock at the back for the LionsXII this season. Missing just one game all year, the 24-year-old is trusted by Fandi for his no-nonsense style of defending and braveness in going for 50-50 challenges.
After a below-par performance against Terengganu, he will be keen to redeem himself in this crunch game.
In the two dugouts are two good old pals, who will have to set aside their friendship for the 90 minutes.
Fandi Ahmad and Zainal Abidin Hassan, both legends in their own right, linked up well at Pahang during their playing days and famously inspired the side to a dream league and Malaysia Cup double back in 1992.
Well known for their goalscoring abilities in their heydays, both of them are similarly attacking-minded in their respective coaching philosophies. The latter is aiming to win his first-ever MSL title as a head coach and his dreams could well be in the hands of the former.
Facts and Figures
- Pahang have the slight upper hand in terms of the head-to-head records between both teams. Both sides have faced each other ten times in history, with the Elephants triumphing five times while the LionsXII won four. The other match ended up in a draw.
- Pahang are unbeaten in their last 12 league games, winning 11 and drawing just once.
- Six of Conti’s 10 league goals have come away from home.
- The LionsXII have not seen any cards shown to their players in their last four games, while no Pahang men have not been booked in their last three games.
- The LionsXII are unbeaten in 11 games at home this season – winning six and drawing two in the league, while winning three in the FA Cup.
- On the other hand, Pahang has collected most points on the road amongst the 12 teams – with five wins and one draw in eight matches.
- The LionsXII have won their last five games at home, while similarly Pahang have won their last five away games.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: What a tough game to call. Pahang are in such good form at the moment that the LionsXII hardly seem a match on paper. Anything can happen though, so I'm tipping a 1-1 draw with Lady Luck smiling on the hosts and the Elephants failing to break down the walls of Fortress Jalan Besar.
Darren Goon: Pahang have won their last five away games; LionsXII have the same record at home. Something's got to give, and all signs point to the league leaders continuing their run after dismantling ATM, combined with the LionsXII's defeat to a resurgent Terengganu side. 1-3.
Kenneth Tan: As mentioned, the LionsXII are in for a stern 90 minutes. However their impressive home record means they are going into this game with the psychological edge and that factor alone should help them secure a gritty 1-1 draw.
The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan: LionsXII 1-0. The unbeaten run at home has been no fluke and I expect that to continue even against the table toppers. A late winner from a corner as an early present for Singapore.
Yahoo Sports’ Teng Kiat: LionsXII will want to bounce back at home but Pahang are real tough nuts to crack at the moment. 2-2.
TODAY’s Noah Tan: 2-1 to the LionsXII. It's a home game, it's the eve of national day (SG50, no less), so the players will step up their game to mark the special occasion.
Photos: Football Association of Singapore